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BARCELONA, Spain – Real Madrid's commanding 3-1 win over Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday leaves the two Spanish giants poised to dispute the title that escaped them last season.
Barcelona arrived in the capital unbeaten and aiming for a win that would have increased its lead over Madrid to seven points.
Instead, Madrid's comeback dealt Barcelona its first league loss of the season and closed the gap to just one point through nine rounds.
The title race could barely be tighter at this early stage. The mood, however, in the rivals' home cities was entirely different on Sunday morning.
Madrid-based sport daily Marca splashed the headline "They Ate Them Alive!" and fellow Madrid-friendly AS declared "That's The Way Madrid Wins," playing on a common anti-Madrid chant at rival stadiums.
Meanwhile, SPORT summed up the sentiment in Barcelona with "A Disappointing Leader" after Barcelona faded fast following Neymar's fourth-minute opener from a pass by newcomer Luis Suarez.
Lionel Messi could only manage one good scoring chance that Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas did well to turn away, and Barcelona's defense went from shaky to shambles in the second half.
But Barcelona can take heart from Suarez's surprisingly strong return after a four-month ban from competitive matches for biting an Italian opponent at the World Cup.
Although still not fit for a full match, in his 69 minutes the Uruguay forward offered the most constant threat Barcelona could muster, setting up Neymar's opener and almost getting a second assist for Messi that would have made it 2-0.
His sturdier frame- compared to Messi and Neymar- was clear by the way he held his own against Madrid's physical defenders, and he showed no signs of rust from his long layoff.
"The result doesn't sink us," said Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez. "We believe in what we are doing."
Coach Luis Enrique, however, faced questions over why his team failed to compete in the second half, and the first-year manager will surely be scrutinized for his decision to take Xavi off with his team down 2-1 and not to start speedy back Jordi Alba.
Madrid lost its two league "clasicos" last season, but overall it has turned the tide against Barcelona since the departure of former coach Pep Guardiola in 2012.
Under Guardiola, Barcelona dominated Madrid with a record of nine wins, four draws and 2 losses. Since then, Madrid has won five, drawn two and lost three.
Madrid roared back from Neymar's early goal and shredded Barcelona's record of eight clean sheets to start the season.
The hosts offered an unbeatable mix of their traditional counterattacking style with a new willingness to dispute the hallmark possession of their fierce rivals.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored for an 11th straight game when he leveled with a penalty in the 35th after Gerard Pique had clumsily handled in the area.
Pepe then headed in a corner in the 50th before Karim Benzema capped his excellent performance with a goal after a collective defensive gaffe to put an early end to the contest in the 61st.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti got it right by replacing the injured Gareth Bale with another midfielder, Francisco "Isco" Alarcon, to equal forces with Barcelona in the middle.
"We saw a Real Madrid that also knew how to keep possession of the ball," Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said. "They are not the only ones who can pass. It was a day to enjoy. We knew who to handle the phases of the match, when we needed to launch counterattacks and when to keep possession, something which they are used to dominating. And that hurt them a lot."
The result also benefited the other top teams in the league, leaving five sides within two points.
Sevilla pulled into second place level with Barcelona on points with a 2-1 win over Villarreal on Sunday, while Valencia and Atletico Madrid also won this round to sit two points behind the pacesetters in fourth and fifth.
Yet given the even greater collection of talent Madrid and Barcelona have amassed this season, the league title will likely come down to the two powerhouses who shared nine straight trophies before Atletico's triumph last season.