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Real back on top as Barcelona falter

Gonzalo Higuain nets Real Madrid's winner in the first half against Racing Santander.
Gonzalo Higuain nets Real Madrid's winner in the first half against Racing Santander.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Real Madrid return to top of table in Spain after beating Racing Santander 1-0
  • Visitors unlucky not to earn a point as Sergio Canales has effort wrongly ruled out
  • Previous leaders Barcelona are one point adrift of Real after 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao
  • La Liga's top two teams will clash in "El Clasico" at the Nou Camp next Sunday
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(CNN) -- Real Madrid returned to the top of the table in Spain after edging past Racing Santander 1-0 on Saturday, while previous leaders Barcelona could only draw 1-1 at Athletic Bilbao.

Real, still missing the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and with veteran talisman Raul starting on the bench, dominated struggling Santander but had only a solitary first-half strike from Gonzalo Higuain to show for it.

The visitors should have snatched a point, but Sergio Canales saw his 77th minute effort wrongly ruled out for an offside by a teammate who was not in the line of play.

Real, whose last home outing ended in an embarrassing exit from the Copa Del Rey against lower-league opposition, saw midfielder Xabi Alonso hit the post in the 13th minute and then defender Alvaro Arbeloa also hit the woodwork with a floated cross.

Argentina forward Higuain, who started in place of Raul, kept up his good goalscoring form in the 22nd minute when he pounced from close range after Kaka's right-wing cross was not cleared.

Karim Benzema thought he had doubled the lead in the 55th minute, but the France forward's effort was correctly ruled out for a marginal offside before he made way for Raul.

The result lifted some of the pressure piling up on Real coach Manuel Pellegrini, who has a big week ahead with Wednesday's Champions league clash against FC Zurich and then the "El Clasico" battle with Barcelona on Sunday.

Real will go into that match at the Nou Camp with a one-point lead over Barca, who were missing the swine flu-stricken Rafael Marquez, Yaya Toure and Eric Abidal and the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the trip to Bilbao.

Lionel Messi inspired the Spanish and European champions' best moments in the first half, with Thierry Henry left on the bench following his controversial handball incident in France's World Cup playoff win against the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday.

But it was the Basque side who should have taken the lead on the stroke of halftime when Javier Martinez headed a golden chance wide when it seemed easier to score.

Barcelona took the lead in the 54th minute when Xavi threaded a superb pass to Dani Alves and the Brazilian fullback coolly slotted in the opening goal.

However, that lead lasted only nine minutes as substitute Gaizka Toquero ghosted in behind Alves to collect his teammate's headed flick-on and calmly sidefoot high into the net.

Henry was finally brought on by coach Pep Guardiola in the 84th minute, but Barcelona could not penetrate the stubborn Bilbao defense, with the home side left in seventh place after a hard-earned point.

Barcelona next take on Italian champions Inter Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday, needing a result to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout stages.

Sevilla consolidated third place after holding on to win 2-1 at Tenerife.

Diego Perotti put the visitors ahead in the 32nd minute with a close-range finish from a cross by new Spain cap Jesus Navas, who almost gave away a penalty three minutes into the second half when Marc Valiente went down.

Sevilla immediately counter-attacked and midfielder Renato crashed in a shot from the edge of the area after being set up by fellow Brazilian Luis Fabiano.

Striker Nino gave Tenerife hope with a superb volley 15 minutes from the end, but Sevilla defended well to earn the three points.

Atletico Madrid crashed to a third straight defeat under new coach Quique Sanchez Flores, losing 2-1 at Deportivo La Coruna after Andres Guardado's dramatic last-minute penalty.

Argentina striker Sergio Aguero put Atletico ahead after just three minutes, but Diego Colotto leveled the score on 20 and Guardado kept his cool at the death after Pablo brought down Alberto Lopo.

Sanchez Flores raced onto the pitch as Atletico protested furiously, resulting in Cleber Santana being sent off.