Barcelona's Argentinian striker Lionel Messi reacts after losing 3-1 against Real Sociedad in their Spanish Primera Division match at Anoeta stadium, in San Sebastian yesterday. - EPA
(Reuters) - Real Madrid stormed three points clear at the top of La Liga after they beat Elche 3-0 on Saturday and Barcelona slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Real Sociedad.
Asier Illarramendi gave Real the lead before the break but it took them until the 72nd minute to score again with a rocket of a long-range drive by Gareth Bale. Isco added a third goal with nine minutes left.
Barca were cut open again and again on the counter-attack by a Sociedad side intent on avenging their recent King's Cup exit at the hands of the Catalans.
Fifth-placed Sociedad went ahead through an Alex Song own goal before Lionel Messi equalised. Antoine Griezmann and David Zurutuza then struck after the break to send Barca to defeat.
It could have been worse for the champions as Carlos Vela hit the woodwork late on.
"We didn't feel comfortable and hold possession which is our strength. This meant that they had openings," Barca defender Gerard Pique told reporters.
"Now we have a break for a week and we can consider what went wrong. We are only three points behind so it isn't worrying."
Barca, who also had coach Gerardo Martino dismissed at halftime for complaining to the referee, have 60 points from 25 matches.
Real lead the way on 63 points but Atletico Madrid can draw level with them by winning at Osasuna on Sunday.
Illarramendi, replacing suspended midfielder Luka Modric, broke the deadlock for Real with a shot that clipped Manu del Moral and wrong-footed goalkeeper Manu Herrera after 34 minutes.
Real were without Cristiano Ronaldo, serving the final game of his three-match ban, and without the Portugal forward they lacked spark in front of goal against an Elche side that defended solidly.
Karim Benzema forced Herrera into an early save and the France striker, along with Angel Di Maria, looked dangerous for Real but they needed a slice of fortune with Illarramendi's strike.
Wales winger Bale, having a quiet game on the right, exploded into life with a powerful shot that went in off the crossbar to give Real a 2-0 lead.
With 13th-placed Elche's resistance broken, substitute Isco slotted home the third goal.
"Bale didn't have confidence before scoring his great goal and after that he was totally different," Real coach Carlo Ancelotti told a news conference.
"I am satisfied because we didn't concede. Our play could have been better but at this stage of the season we need to be solid and we were.
"In tight games Modric gives us more options but Illarramendi did very well," the Italian added.
In San Sebastian, Barcelona found it difficult to break down an organised Sociedad team.
Vela shot over before the hosts took the lead in the 32nd minute when a cross by Sergio Canales went in off Song who was under pressure from Gorka Elustondo.
Barca levelled four minutes later after Sergio Busquets dummied a Martin Montoya pass and the ball found Messi who finished clinically.
Sociedad continued to open up a static Barca at the back and Vela scampered clear to cross for Griezmann to make it 2-1 early in the second period.
Zurutuza then sprang the offside trap before steering home a Griezmann pass.
Elsewhere, Rafinha earned Celta Vigo a 1-1 draw with Getafe after Angel Lafita had put the visitors ahead while Almeria drew 0-0 with fellow strugglers Malaga.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez) nL3N0LR0DI