Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was sent off for a two-footed lunge on Messi in the 77th minute and that left Barcelona in a strong position.
Lionel Messi scored his 500th goal for Barcelona during a 3-2 win over Real Madrid on Sunday - but when and how did he score them all?
After equalising in the very first half, five-time Ballon d'Or victor Messi settled the top-of-the-table clash with his 500th goal for Barca.
Barca took the lead through Ivan Rakitic who scored a wonderful left foot shot from 20 yards out which left Navas helpless with just 17 minutes left on the clock.
Substitute James Rodriguez seemed to have earned Real a point when he swept home an 85th-minute equaliser, which came after the hosts had been reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Sergio Ramos.
"(Messi) even makes a difference when he's at home having dinner", joked Barcelona coach Luis Enrique after the game. "It will be tight down till the end".
"The 2-2 (goal) was a bad blow but players were able to come back in the last breath - the happy ending that we all wanted at Barcelona".
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"We don't get carried away when we win and we won't get down after a defeat".
The match was a thriller which will go down as one of the best Clasicos in history, with end-to-end action from the off.
"It's an honour for the team to get him as he's a approval".
The Argentine came in for harsh treatment throughout, with Casemiro lucky not to be sent off for multiple hacks on him after picking up an early booking for a foul.
It took just four minutes for Barca to level things up, however, thanks to a piece of individual brilliance from Lionel Messi, who weaved past a couple of players and picked his spot for his first El Clasico goal in seven outings.
The pace didn't drop off, and Luka Modric forced a fine save from Ter Stegen moments before Bale was forced off with a muscle injury to be replaced by Marco Asensio.
There was a contentious decision late in the opening 45 minutes, as the already-booked Casemiro dodged a second yellow for a cynical block on Messi, while the little maestro somehow failed to convert from close range from the final kick. "But we still depend on ourselves".