BARCELONA, Spain - Atletico Madrid needed a second-half goal from midfielder Jorge 'Koke' Resurreccion to eke out a 1-0 win at Malaga on Saturday, becoming the overnight leader of the Spanish soccer league as it resumed following the winter break.
Atletico built a provisional three-point advantage over Barcelona before the defending La Liga champions hosts Elche on Sunday.
Barcelona then visits Atletico in the following round.
"We will have to wait and see if Barcelona wins tomorrow to stay leader, as it is accustomed to doing," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.
Atletico dominated possession but was held in check by Malaga's five-man defence until Simeone sent on forwards Adrian Lopez and Cristian Rodriguez to join Diego Costa and David Villa up front for the final half hour.
Diego Costa failed to add to his league-leading 19 goals, but the striker turned playmaker to unlock the hosts' stingy defence in the 70th.
Diego Costa slipped the ball to Adrian, whose rebound off goalkeeper Willy Caballero fell for Koke arriving late to rifle through the crowded area and into the back of the net to claim the winner.
"They played a great game in defence but eventually we earned the victory with my goal," Koke said.
Atletico moved eight points clear of third-place Real Madrid, who host Celta Vigo on Monday.
The only bad news for Atletico was that right-back Juanfran will be suspended for the January 11 table-topping clash at home to Barca.
Meanwhile, Valencia's new manager Juan Antonio Pizzi debuted with a 2-0 victory at home over crosstown rival Levante.
Almeria routed visiting Granada 3-0 to climb four points clear of the relegation zone, and Real Betis remained bottom of the table after a drab 0-0 draw at Valladolid.