Gareth Bale scored a late winning penalty after Cristiano Ronaldo had been sent off for the ninth time in his career as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Cordoba 2-1 on Saturday.
Barcelona remain just a point behind the European champions having played a game more as Neymar and Lionel Messi both scored twice in a 6-0 win at 10-man Elche.
Champions Atletico Madrid are four points off the top after Antoine Griezmann’s double helped them to a 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano.
Real got off to the worst possible start when Sergio Ramos handled inside his own area and Nabil Ghilas slotted home the resultant penalty.
Karim Benzema levelled from James Rodriguez’s corner midway through the first-half, but Ronaldo’s frustration at a poor performance seemed to have cost his side the chance of victory when he lashed out at Edimar seven minutes from time.
However, the numbers were levelled up when Fede Cartabia was shown a second yellow card for handling Bale’s free-kick inside the area, and in Ronaldo’s absence, the Welshman took responsibility from the spot to secure all three points.
“I apologise to everyone and especially to Edimar for my rash act in the game today,” Ronaldo wrote on his official Twitter account.
“I haven’t seen it yet and I still haven’t spoken with him so I can’t judge,” Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti said of Ronaldo’s dismissal.
“We suffered in this game, but it is was important to get the three points and we managed to do it.”
The enthusiasm generated by Madrid’s first visit in 44 years ensured there was a full house at the Nuevo Arcangel and the home fans had plenty to cheer within the first two minutes as Manchester United reject Bebe saw his shot cannon off Ramos’s arm and Ghils converted from the spot.
Slowly, though, Madrid began to find their feet and drew level on 27 minutes when Rodriguez’s corner was flicked on by Bale and Benzema slammed home his 15th goal of the season from close range.
Cordoba were left to rue a host of missed opportunities to seal a famous win after the break with Florin Andone’s attempted lob which struck the crossbar the closest they game to regaining the lead.
– Frustration –
Ronaldo’s frustrations then boiled over when he was rightly dismissed for kicking out at Edimar.
Yet, Ancelotti’s men still managed to grind out a vital victory when Bale made no mistake from the spot after Cartabia clearly handled his initial free-kick.
It was a far more comfortable evening for Barcelona once Gerard Pique had chested down Xavi Hernadez’s free-kick to open the scoring 10 minutes before half-time.
“With this attitude and playing like this, it is difficult for us to lose,” Neymar told Gol TV.
“I am very happy with the season I am having. I am improving all the time.”
A slick counter-attack 10 minutes after the break handed the visitors the chance to double their advantage when Neymar was scythed down by Sergio Pelegrin inside the area and, unlike when he missed from the spot against Atletico Madrid in midweek, Messi confidently slotted home the penalty.
Faycal Fajr was then shown a second yellow card to leave the hosts a man short in the final half hour.
And it showed as Messi teed up Neymar to sweep home the third and better was to come from the South American duo 19 minutes from time when Messi’s lofted pass was volleyed high into the net by the Brazilian for his 19th goal of the season.
Messi made it 5-0 with a classic left-footed finish into the bottom corner two minutes from time before Neymar squared for Pedro Rodriguez to round off the scoring in stoppage time.
Atletico were also comfortable winners thanks to Griezmann’s first-half double as he twice took advantage of slack Rayo defending to race through on goal and slot past Tono.
Roberto Trashorras reduced the arrears with a fine finish before half-time, but Manucho’s own goal 11 minutes after the break made the points safe for Diego Simeone’s men.
Villarreal moved level with Valencia in fifth as Luciano Vietto’s second-half strike was enough to secure a 1-0 win against Levante.
Meanwhile, David Moyes sealed just his third La Liga win as Real Sociedad boss with a 1-0 victory over Eibar. – Agence France-Presse