Barcelona beat Champions League hopefuls Valencia 3-0 at Camp Nou on Sunday thanks to a spectacular hat-trick from Lionel Messi.
Messi opened the scoring with a fine solo effort 11 minutes into the second half and, after Valencia defender Hedwiges Maduro was shown a second yellow card in the 69th minute, Messi punished Los Che with another two goals late on.
Real Madrid later moved ahead on goal difference thanks to a 4-1 victory at Real Valladolid.
Cristiano Ronaldo eased any concerns of a European hangover with a deflected free-kick in the 28th minute, and Gonzalo Higuain added a further two goals either side of the break to make it 3-0. The hosts were given brief hope of a comeback when Raul Albiol put the ball into his own net in the 58th minute for 3-1, but they were dashed just eight minutes later when Higuain completed his hat-trick.
Should the teams remain level on points at the end of the season, they will be separated by their head-to-head record.
Tenerife boosted their hopes of Primera Division survival with a vital 4-1 win at home to Espanyol on Sunday evening as the Catalans' miserable away form continued.
Richi gave the Canary Islanders the lead before Nino doubled their advantage and, while Espanyol got back into the game through Joan Verdu 20 minutes from time, Alejandro Alfaro and Nino later rounded off a deserved victory in the closing stages.
Villarreal moved to within six points of the Europa League spots after securing a 2-0 win over bottom club Xerez, who slip ever closer to the relegation trapdoor after seeing their recent mini-revival come to an end.
Racing Santander's search for a first home league win since early January continues after they were held to a goalless draw by relegation rivals Real Zaragoza.
Finally, midfielder Fernando Soriano continued his recent run of goalscoring form by firing Almeria to a 1-0 victory over local rivals Malaga at the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterraneos.