VALLADOLID, Spain: Real Madrid defender Nacho was the unlikely hero as they snatched a 1-0 win at Real Valladolid on Sunday to capitalise on Barcelona's defeat at Valencia this weekend and move three points clear of their rivals at the top of La Liga.
The Spaniard was handed his fourth league start of the season only because usual right back Dani Carvajal was suspended but he proved the difference in a tight encounter by heading home a Toni Kroos cross in the 78th minute.
Real, who have not won the title since 2017, lead the standings on 46 points after 21 games. Barca, who lost 2-0 at Valencia on Saturday in their first defeat under new coach Quique Setien, are second on 43 while Sevilla are third with 38.
Nacho raced straight over to the visiting dugout to embrace coach Zinedine Zidane after scoring his first league goal in over two years as Real finally broke the deadlock after struggling to break down the hosts' deep-lying defence.
Real midfielder Casemiro thought he had given Zidane's side an early lead when he headed home a free kick from Kroos but the goal was ruled out for offside after a VAR review.
Valladolid's Sergi Guardiola meanwhile netted late in the game but that was also ruled offside and Real clung on to earn a vital victory which took them back to the top of the standings for the first time since the start of October.
"Nacho sums up the unity of this team and that any player can come in and make a difference regardless of how many minutes they have played this season. The whole squad is so happy for him," said Real captain Sergio Ramos.
"It's never easy to play away from home and we knew that Valladolid would play their usual system and defend very well and close us down and we had to work very hard to open them up.
"Going top of the table is very important to us but there's a long way to go and things are going to get more difficult with each week."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris)