The Beast is back: Real Madrid's Julio Cesar Baptista scores the winner [AFP]

Julio Baptista scored the only goal in the 36th minute and gave Real Madrid a 1-0 victory over FC Barcelona 1-0 in the Spanish league's classic derby.

The Brazil forward met Ruud van Nistelrooy's flicked-on pass with a right-footed shot that spun across goal and into the top right of net past Victor Valdes.

Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas thwarted several Barcelona scoring chances, including a hard shot by substitute Bojan Krkic in the 84th, but the Catalan club appeared lifeless without Argentine winger Lionel Messi, who was nursing a thigh injury.

With only its third victory at the Camp Nou in 24 years, Madrid moved seven points clear of second-placed Barcelona, atop the table with 41 points as the league begins its two-week winter break.

Elsewhere, Luis Garcia scored the winner in the 85th minute to rally Espanyol to a 2-1 win over nine-man Atletico Madrid.

The win moved Espanyol into third with 33 points, stretching its unbeaten streak to 13 games.

Atletico has 31 points.

Raul Tamudo chested in a corner for Espanyol in the 53rd, two minutes before Atletico's Mariano Pernia joined striker Sergio Aguero on the sidelines following a second yellow card.

Atletico's Simao Sabrosa curled a free kick inside the far post to open the scoring in the 30th, seven minutes after Aguero was expelled for lashing out at Marc Torrejon.

Nihat Kahveci scored his third goal in two games to rally Villarreal for a 1-1 draw against Recreativo Huelva.

The Turkey striker scored two minutes after Javier Camunas' goal in the 37th.

Also Sunday, it was: Osasuna 3, Mallorca 1; Levante 0, Deportivo La Coruna 1; and Valladolid 0, Real Betis 0.

Athletic Bilbao hosted Murcia in the day's late game.

On Saturday, Valencia rallied for a 2-2 draw at Zaragoza, Sevilla defeated Racing Santander 4-1 and Getafe beat Almeria 2-0.

Hector Font, Jaroslav Plasil and substitute Hugo Viana scored for Osasuna, with Daniel Guiza scoring his eighth goal for Mallorca in the 49th.

Sergio Gonzalez scored from the penalty spot in the 85th to improve second-last Deportivo to 17 points.

Source: Agencies