Relentless striker Robert Lewandowski pounced twice as Barcelona hammered 10-man Elche 3-0 to go one point clear at the top of La Liga on Saturday.
The Polish striker has continued his sensational form since arriving from Bayern Munich in the summer, taking him to 11 goals in eight appearances in all competitions.
Real Madrid are on a 100% record after five games but will face city rivals Atletico Madrid in Sunday’s derby.
So it was a chance for Barcelona to provisionally drop the champions and they took it.
“We will sleep as leaders for the first time in two years,” said Barca coach Xavi Hernandez. “We did our homework and got the three points. We are on the right track.”
Xavi rotated in midfield following Tuesday’s Champions League loss to Bayern Munich, with Frenkie de Jong and Franck Kessie coming on as a substitute, while Memphis Depay received a rare start in attack.
Bottom-of-the-table Elche made it much easier for the hosts when Gonzalo Verdu brought down Lewandowski as he charged through on goal after 14 minutes and was quickly sent off.
Barcelona piled up the chances and inevitably Lewandowski broke the deadlock after 34 minutes.
Pedri placed Alejanrdo Balde down the left and the young defender clipped a ball through the penalty area for the veteran striker to simply cushion into the net.
“We knew he would score goals and make a difference, but his personal side surprised me,” Xavi said.
“He has a lot of humility, commitment, hunger. He works very hard.”
Memphis doubled the lead with a tight individual turn and a powerful strike that flew past Edgar Badia, and Pedri added a third shortly before halftime, but it was ruled out for offside.
Barcelona only had to wait three and a half seconds for that, with Lewandowski pounced on a stray ball in the box and finished clinically to put the game well beyond Elche’s reach.
After Cadiz’s late victory over Real Valladolid on Friday night, Francisco Rodriguez’s side were left bottom of La Liga on one point, and never looked like they wanted to change it against Xavi’s sparkling Barca.
Badia denied Lewandowski his hat-trick with a fine save and the striker fired slightly over the bar before being replaced by Ferran Torres, to a standing ovation from the home fans already under his spell.
Long after Lewandowski was replaced, his name continued to resonate in the stadium. Up front, Barcelona finally have a player to replace Lionel Messi’s goal contributions and help them compete for the title again, which they last won in 2019.
Lewandowski’s arrival and the club’s summer signing frenzy has given fans reason to watch again, as evidenced by the 85,000 attendances, compared to last season’s languid attendance.
“The excitement of the fans is palpable, in the stadium, in the streets, we must maintain this hope and this conviction,” added Xavi.
“People are connected, Barcelona’s support is more alive than ever.”
Elsewhere, Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Bilbao moved up to third in the table after beating Rayo Vallecano 3-2 in an entertaining clash at San Mames.
Inaki Williams equalized for Athletic after veteran midfielder Oscar Trejo opened the scoring for the visitors.
Oihan Sancet and Nico Williams, freshly called up in Luis Enrique’s Spain squad for the upcoming Nations League clash, scored to give the hosts a two-goal lead at Bilbao.
Radamel Falcao pulled one back late but Valverde’s side held on for the win, moving within three points of Barcelona.
Valencia beat Celta Vigo 3-0 at Mestalla to finish eighth as Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani made his debut after leaving Manchester United.
Gennaro Gatuso’s side have a 100% home record and played with conviction.
Samu Castellejo broke the deadlock in the first half, before Celta’s Franco Cervi was sent off for a reckless tackle on Thierry Correia.
Marcos Andre and Andre Almeida added late goals to wrap up the win.
Real Mallorca beat Almeria 1-0 at Son Moix.