Messi magic, Villarreal revival halted
Barcelona beat third placed Valencia 5-1 at the Nou Camp with Lionel Messi in sensational form as he bagged four goals to cut the gap to Real Madrid to ten points.
Valencia took a surprise lead through Pablo Piatti in the ninth minute, but Barca's response was composed and clinical as they tore the visiting defence to shreds, producing chance after chance as Messi scored twice before half-time and then twice more in the final 15 minutes.
Indeed, Barcelona could have scored a dozen but for the efforts of visiting goalkeeper Diego Alves, although Messi then found time to help set up Xavi Hernandez for a fifth in injury time.
Alhassane Bangoura and Diego Costa both scored twice as Rayo Vallecano inflicted another blow on Levante, beating them 5-3.
Andrija Delibasic also scored for the visitors, while Levante's goals came from Jose Barkero and Ruben Suarez, who scored twice including a last-minute penalty.
After launching their Primera Division campaign with a pair of draws followed by seven wins, Levante have hopelessly lost their way. Coach Juan Ignacio Martinez's side have now lost 13 of 20 games in all competitions, and are without a win in their last eight.
Mallorca ended Villarreal's recent revival in spectacular style with a 4-0 win at the Iberostar.
There was little to choose between the Primera Division sides in the first period, but the hosts took the lead just before the break as Chori Castro's great free-kick was turned in from close range by Victor Casadesus.
Castro's set-pieces continued to cause the visitors problems after half-time and the second goal arrived in the 53rd minute as Diego Lopez could only punch Castro's cross into the path of Jose Luis Marti, who headed into the empty net.
Victor got his second goal of the game following a flowing counter-attack 12 minutes later and Jose Nunes rounded things off with a free header from another Castro corner.
A stunning four-minute scoring spree midway through the second half helped Athletic Bilbao down fellow Champions League hopefuls Malaga 3-0 at San Mames.
Malaga will feel they should have been ahead at half-time but they could not make the most of their various chances and were left shellshocked as Athletic netted three times in quick succession to take the spoils.
Substitute Fernando Amorebieta put the home side ahead in the 58th minute and Mikel San Jose and Gaizka Toquero quickly added further goals to settle the contest.
Goalkeeper Juan Pablo was the hero as Sporting Gijon held on to claim a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid in Javier Clemente's first game in charge.
Atleti went ahead early on when Adrian Lopez outstretched the Sporting defence and his shot was turned into his own net by Roberto Canella. However the hosts responded well and Sebastian Eguren equalised 17 minutes later.
Pablo denied the visitors on numerous occasions after the break, most notably from Radamel Falcao's close range effort after 82 minutes, but Sporting could even have won it had it not been for Thiabaut Courtois' brilliant one-on-one save from Adrian Colunga six minutes from time.
Granada moved five points clear of the relegation zone with a convincing 4-1 home win over ten-man Real Sociedad.
The visitors had taken an early lead when Mikel Gonzalez headed in Asier Illarramendi's cross after ten minutes, but Granada were level two minutes later as Inigo Lopez found space at the back post to nod in Mikel Rico's cross.
Illarramendi was shown a straight red card just before half-time for a lunge on Franco Jara and the hosts took advantage of the extra man in the second period as Jara's wonder strike and Ikechukwu Uche's header put them 3-1 in front.
Granada defender Guilherme Siqueira was also sent off with five minutes remaining to even up the numbers but it made little difference as the home side immediately broke upfield and Uche sealed the three points with a tap-in after Claudio Bravo had denied Jara.