Madrid: Villarreal ended a run of four league games without a win with a 1-0 home victory over promoted Hercules on Wednesday to move to within a point of third-placed Valencia.
Italian international forward Giuseppe Rossi scored his 13th league goal of the season on 21 minutes to seal Villarreal's 11th home win of the campaign as they got back to winning ways after collecting two points from the last 12.
Elsewhere Athletic Bilbao crashed to their fourth successive league loss with a 2-1 reverse at Real Zaragoza on Wednesday.
Spanish international striker Fernando Llorente put Bilbao ahead on 18 minutes with his 15th league goal of the season, however, Zaragoza staged a second half comeback to take the spoils.
Giant Czech Jiri Jarosik headed an equaliser three minutes after the break and Nigerian striker Ikechuwku Uche scored the winner on 55 minutes as Zaragoza moved out of the bottom three.
Bilbao, who could have gone above Espanyol into fifth, stay sixth but Sevilla are now level on points after their 3-0 home win over Sporting Gijon on Tuesday.
In other matches, city rivals Getafe and Atletico Madrid shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.
Brazilian substitute Elias Mendes, only on the pitch for 14 minutes, grabbed an 81st minute equaliser for Atletico after Manu del Moral had put Getafe into a third minute lead.
Atletico lie eighth, three points off the top six with Getafe two points further back.
League leaders Barcelona, seven points ahead of Real Madrid, are in action at third-placed Valencia on Wednesday as they bid to extend their unbeaten away record.
Valencia are unbeaten in the league in 2011 but will be wary of old boy David Villa who makes his first return to the Mestalla stadium after joining Barcelona for 40 million euros in the summer.
"We know they (Barcelona) are going to have chances and we have to stop them scoring," said Valencia coach Unai Emery. "If they have most of the possession as usual we are cannon fodder."
Real Madrid host strugglers Malaga on Thursday knowing they can't afford another slip-up after dropping two points last time out at Deportivo La Coruna.
Madrid have a perfect 12 home wins at their Santiago Bernabeu stadium and coach Jose Mourinho has not lost a league home match in nine years with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Madrid.