Madrid: Real Madrid kept their three-point cushion at the top on Saturday with a 3-2 win over Valencia in a stormy encounter at the Mestalla.
The pressure was on Real who had Barcelona breathing down their necks after their earlier 4-0 win over Zaragoza but they produced a battling display against a Valencia side who pushed them all the way after the break.
Real have a higher intensity to their play this season and deserved their lead through Karim Benzema after 19 minutes but Valencia responded after the break and the game threatened to boil over as tackles rained in and tempers frayed.
Sergio Ramos headed Real further ahead midway through the second half before Roberto Soldado hit the first of a double.
A mistake from Valencia keeper Alves who recklessly came off his line allowed Ronaldo to score from a tight angle, but another Soldado goal set up a grandstand finish.
A stylish Barcelona produced a rendition of attacking football at the Nou Camp against a Zaragoza side who have only won two games all season.
Barca were finding it difficult to find a cutting edge though until they managed it in a way not associated with Barca’s passing football, as Gerard Pique headed home a Xavi Hernandez free-kick.
Lionel Messi slotted in a second clinically before half time and then after the restart Carles Puyol and David Villa completed the scoring.
Misfiring Atletico Madrid finally found their touch in front of goal but were forced to hang on for a 3-2 victory over Levante, who fell to their third consecutive defeat.
The pressure was on Atletico coach Gregorio Manzano after their derby defeat by Getafe in their last game meant they had only one win in eight matches, but they showed plenty of attacking intent from the start.
The visitors are still in the top four thanks to a seven-match winning streak earlier in the season and they set out their stall to defend deeply and try to catch Atletico on the counter-attack.
Tiago Cardoso fired over early on from inside the area but generally Atletico struggled in the first half to create clear-cut chances.
After the break Levante almost sneaked a lead but keeper Thibaut Courtois was quickly off his line to deny Xavi Torres.
Atletico missed a series of openings but eventually went ahead through a cool finish from substitute Luis Pizzi. Levante hit back immediately via Torres but Adrian Lopez restored Atletico’s advantage after 74 minutes and Diego added another before a Ruben Suarez consolation.
Athletic Bilbao continue to soar up the table with a 2-1 victory away to Sevilla which has put them in sixth place.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have now gone eleven matches unbeaten following a slow start to the campaign under the Chilean coach which took them six attempts to register their first win in la liga.
Since then though they have never looked back and fully deserved the three points against a Sevilla side which have not won now in five games and are just a point above Athletic.
Andoni Iraola gave Athletic the lead after just five minutes and while Sevilla drew level through Jesus Navas after a headed knock down from Frederic Kanoute, the visitors were in charge.
In particular Sevilla were finding it difficult to cope with Athletic’s physical threat although the winner came from a move with the ball on the ground as Iker Muniain found Oscar De Marcos, who scored from close range.
"This was not an easy win but a just one. At the moment we are not a side which wins games comfortably. Sevilla have some very good strikers and in the second half we were able to control them, while in both halves we were strong going forward," said Bielsa.
Earlier, Sporting Gijon came from behind to beat Getafe thanks to a late Nacho Novo winner. Oscar Trejo equalised a Nicolas Miku goal in first half stoppage time and then a minute from the end Novo headed in a second.
Osasuna drew 0-0 with Rayo Vallecano while it was also goalless between Real Sociedad and Espanyol, who moved onto the fringes of the European places with 17 points.