Real and Barca take narrow wins
Rayo Vallecano were left to rue a glut of missed opportunities as Cristiano Ronaldo's brilliant backheel earned Primera Division leaders Real Madrid a 1-0 victory at Vallecas.
Piti struck the post and Michu was denied by a last-ditch tackle by Sergio Ramos in the first half but, for all the hosts' pressing, it was the visitors who took the lead early in the second period as Ronaldo skilfully backheeled in from ten yards after Rayo had failed to clear Mesut Ozil's corner.
Michu missed another great chance when he blazed over after being played in by Diego Costa, and his day was summed up two minutes from time when he was sent off for a tackle from behind on Sami Khedira.
Later on Sunday, Barcelona maintained the pressure on the leaders as they battled to a 2-1 victory at Atletico Madrid as Lionel Messi's stunning free-kick nine minutes from time made the difference.
The Argentina forward had a goal ruled out early on for handball but played a part as Dani Alves opened the scoring eight minutes before half-time.
Atletico levelled just after the break as Radamel Falcao turned in Gabi's corner and the Colombian had a great chance to give Los Rojiblancos the lead on 69 minutes but was denied by a fine save from Victor Valdes.
Valdes was to come to the rescue again after Messi had put the European champions back in front, blocking Juanfran's effort from point-blank range in the final minute to ensure Barca took all three points.
Goals from Gary Medel and Jesus Navas saw Sevilla come from behind to claim a surprise 2-1 victory at Valencia.
Tino Costa put the hosts ahead in the 25th minute before Medel equalised nine minutes before the break. Navas then secured victory for Michel's team as they claimed their second successive win to seemingly leave behind a woeful run of form which had seen them take just two points from 24 before beating Osasuna.
Substitute Nilmar scored a vital equaliser 23 minutes from time as Villarreal came from behind to rescue a point in a 2-2 draw against Athletic Bilbao.
In a thrilling encounter that swung one way and then the other, it was the hosts who started the brighter and went ahead on 10 minutes thanks to Marcos Senna's wonderful free-kick.
Marcelo Bielsa introduced Fernando Llorente at half-time and the Spain international brought Athletic level with a calm header at the back post before the visitors took the lead on the counter-attack as Markel Susaeta broke clear to slot past Diego Lopez.
Real Sociedad climbed above Real Mallorca as Imanol Agirretxe's late winner earned a 1-0 victory for the hosts at the Anoeta.
Agirretxe lashed into the top-left corner in the 79th minute to settle the match in Sociedad's favour, lifting the hosts to 13th in the table - two points ahead of their visitors.
Javad Nekounam and Dejan Lekic scored twice in three first-half minutes as Osasuna kept up their European challenge with a 2-1 victory over Granada.
Nekounam and Lekic pounced in the 26th and 29th minutes and, although Mikel Rico pulled one back just a minute later, the hosts prevailed. Defeat brought to a halt Granada's recent improvement under Abel Resino while for Osasuna they kept up the pressure for the European places.