BARCELONA: Barcelona snatched a 2-1 Clasico win over Real Madrid with Franck Kessie's late goal on Sunday to move 12 points clear at the top of La Liga.
The victory dents Madrid's ambitions of retaining the title and leaves the Catalans close to lifting the trophy for the first time since 2019.
Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid took the lead through a Ronald Araujo own goal but Barcelona pulled level when Sergi Roberto tucked home just before half-time.
Both sides had chances to win the game and Marco Asensio struck for Madrid, but the goal was ruled offside by VAR, before Alejandro Balde set up Kessie in the 92nd minute.
"It's not definitive but it's a very important step," Xavi told reporters.
"Twelve points clear at the top of La Liga, we are having an extraordinary league campaign, I am very happy for that and proud to watch the team play."
The build-up to the match was overshadowed by Barcelona's corruption charge in the 'Caso Negreira' refereeing scandal.
Madrid joined Spanish prosecutors' complaint against Barcelona last week and their president Florentino Perez snubbed the game for the first time in over 20 years, amid rising tensions between the two Spanish giants.
That fed the match's intensity, both on and off the pitch, in Xavi's sixth Clasico as Barcelona coach but only his first at Camp Nou.
Xavi asked fans to make the stadium a pressure cooker and they responded, selling it out, whistling Madrid in possession and conjuring one of the best atmospheres of the season.
However, they fell behind in unfortunate circumstances. Araujo deflected Vinicius' cross in at the near post, with Ter Stegen helpless.
Araujo, playing at right-back to counteract the Brazilian, has enjoyed his duels with Vinicius in the past but this time the winger triumphed, albeit fortuitously. Barcelona supporters became enraged by his emphatic celebration in front of them.
It was the first goal from open play Barcelona have conceded at Camp Nou in La Liga all season long, and only the second strike at home and ninth overall.
Barcelona complained defender Nacho, already booked, should have been sent off for a hand-off on Raphinha.
The hosts did not get their wish, but were building up steam and found the breakthrough just before half-time, from an unlikely source.
Selected in place of injured midfielder Pedri, Sergi Roberto was in the right place at the right time to control a loose ball in the box and arc it beyond Courtois.
Barcelona had significantly more possession than in their cup win over Madrid and significantly more chances, but Madrid nearly won it.
Madrid substitute Asensio fired home but the goal was ruled out for offside after a nervy wait for VAR instruction.
"We did not win because of an offside that we're still doubtful about," complained Ancelotti.
"I was not so sure. We have doubts about it, and we go back to Madrid with this doubt."
Barcelona seemed content with the draw but Kessie's last-gasp strike sparked wild celebrations at Camp Nou.
"I don't have the feeling (the league is won) but I understand the fans singing 'campeones -- it's a considerable advantage but we can't relax," added Xavi.
"The atmosphere was extraordinary, how the fans supported the team."
Earlier, Real Sociedad held on to fourth place with a 2-0 win over Elche on Sunday. They are under pressure from Real Betis and Villarreal who both won too.
Betis, fifth, are three points behind the Basque side after they beat Mallorca 1-0, while Villarreal, sixth, thrashed Osasuna 3-0 on the road and sit four points behind the Andalusians.
Sevilla fell to a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Getafe as their topsy-turvy season continued, leaving Jorge Sampaoli's side 14th and two points above the drop zone. -- AFP