Watch: Messi wins El Clasico at the death, leads Barcelona over Real Madrid
La Liga's race has plenty of intrigue after Lionel Messi's goal at the death–the 500th of his Barcelona career–gave his side a 3-2 win over Real Madrid in a classic edition of El Clasico on Sunday.
Real Madrid carried a three-point lead into the day, knowing that a win, or even a draw, would go a long way toward ending its five-year drought for a league title.
It took the lead through Casemiro but watched as Neymar-less Barcelona clawed its way back, with Messi and Ivan Rakitic scoring to give the visitors a 2-1 lead. Sergio Ramos was sent off in the 77th minute, giving Barcelona an even bigger advantage, but it was nullified when James Rodriguez scored an 85th-minute equalizer off the bench.
Messi had the final say, though, scoring on the last kick of the game to give Barcelona a huge win and vault the club atop the table via tiebreaker, though Real Madrid has a game in hand.
The match began with Masters champion and Spaniard Sergio Garcia kicking off the festivities and greeting both sides.
An early referee decision went against Real Madrid, with Ronaldo being denied a penalty after apparent contact in the box by Samuel Umtiti as the FIFA Player of the Year was trying to meet a cutback cross from Dani Carvajal in the second minute.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen then stopped Ronaldo three minutes later, with Real breaking on a clinical counterattack, with Ronaldo racing to retrieve the ball down the right channel before cutting back to his left and firing away from 20 yards.
Barcelona's best early chance came in the 11th minute, with Messi spraying Jordi Alba out left, where he crossed back to Suarez. The Uruguayan just pulled his 20-yard chance wide left of Keylor Navas's goal, though.
The action continued in the 20th minute, as Ronaldo tested Ter Stegen again, this time a left-sided blast that the German did well to get a strong arm to and parry away to safety.
A minute later, on the other end of the field, Messi took a flying elbow to the face from Marcelo while trying to recover the ball, going down and spitting blood, needing to come off momentarily while being tended to by medics.
Marcelo then was decisive in the attacking end, sending a ball over the top toward Sergio Ramos. His attempt nicked off the near post but right to an unmarked Casemiro by the far post, and he got a touch on it to direct it into the vacated net for the opening goal in the 28th minute.
Messi answered five minutes later with a sensational finish. Messi received a cross at the top of the box and dodged a pair of Real Madrid defenders with a slaloming touch before beating Navas from the center of the area. The goal was his 22nd in a Clasico, the most all-time.
Messi was taken down again at the end of the first half by Casemiro, who was sitting on a yellow card, but despite Barcelona appeals, no yellow card was given.
Messi then missed a chance at the halftime whistle to put Barcelona in the lead, with a corner to the far post being redirected wide of the mark with the final kick of the half.
Ter Stegen came to Barcelona's rescue again in the 49th minute, with Real Madrid pressing in the early parts of the second half. Toni Kroos was afforded the space to rip from 20 yards, but the goalkeeper extended to his right and confidently swatted the ball with his right hand to keep Kroos off the board.
Five minutes later Ter Stegen was at it yet again, denying Karim Benzema from point-blank range. Marcelo created the danger one more time for Real Madrid, with his cross from the left setting up the Frenchman, who nodded it down only to have Ter Stegen instinctively kick it away.
It was then Navas's turn to play hero, with Paco Alcacer extremely wasteful with a clear look from 15 yards. Jordi Alba set up Neymar's replacement, but he opted for the outside-of-the-cleat poke instead of a stronger finish with his left foot, and Navas read it the whole way.
Navas displayed his instincts moments after that, with Gerard Pique's goal-bound header off the corner being turned away by the sprawling Costa Rican netminder in the 59th minute.
Navas continued to stand on his head as the second half went on. Andres Iniesta set up Suarez with a trademark, pinpoint pass over the top to the far post, and Suarez played it off the bounce before launching a powerful volley on frame. Navas read it and managed to swat Suarez's shot away before it could sneak inside the post, though, keeping it at 1-1 in the 68th minute.
It was going to take something remarkable to beat Navas on Sunday, and it came through Rakitic. His left-footed stunner in the 73rd minute gave Barcelona its first lead of the day.
It got better for Barcelona, when Sergio Ramos was sent off in the 78th minute. His two-footed, flying lunge on Messi cost him dearly and it erased Real Madrid's late-scoring hero, as it was Ramos who scored the 90th-minute equalizer at Camp Nou in the reverse fixture this season.
A new hero emerged for Real Madrid, though, with James coming off the bench to score a massive equalizer. Marcelo, again, was the one with the decisive ball, crossing from the left for the Colombian, who volleyed it off the bounce in the 85th minute.
Messi had the final say, however, scoring at the death to win the match in dramatic fashion. He capped a counter with a clinical finish, with 10-man Real stretched thin, scoring on the final kick of the game to give Barcelona a 3-2 win and burst the doors open on La Liga's title race.
Barcelona hosts Osasuna next, while Real Madrid travels to Deportivo de La Coruña on Wednesday.