Real Madrid won a difficult and controversial away game away to Rayo Vallecano to retain their 10 point lead over FC Barcelona at the top of the BBVA Primera Liga table on Sunday.
Cristiano Ronaldo sealed an ugly win with a spectacular back-heel 10 minutes into the second half, but Madrid were again beneficiaries of some favorable referring decisions after match official Fernandez Borbalan chose not to see a clear aggression from Sergio Ramos on Diego Costa, which should have been punished with a red card for Ramos and a penalty for Rayo after just 19 minutes.
He then sent Rayo's Michu off for an innocuous looking challenge in the closing minutes as the home side looked to get back on level terms.
Lionel Messi (L) of Barcelona battles for the ball against Juanfran of Atletico Madrid during the La Liga match between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on February 26, 2012 in Madrid, Spain
Barcelona were under pressure as a result of that result, but a fine performance and a magnificent free kick from Leo Messi helped them to a 2-1 win away to Atletico Madrid.
Dani Alves opened the scoring for Barca following a fine team move, but Radamal Falcao equalized for Atletico in the second half. Valdes had to make several fine saves before Leo Messi's quick thinking saw him chip home the winning free kick before anyone was expecting it.
Barca remain 10 points behind Real Madrid but have now played possibly their toughest away game between now and the end of the season.
Sunday kicked off with a 2-2 draw between Villarreal and Athletic Club. Marcos Senna scored a fine free kick in the first half to put Villarreal ahead, but Athletic hit back after the break with goals from birthday boy, Fernando Llorente and Markel Susaeta.
Nilmar then struck to score the equalizer in what was a thrilling game of football.
Sevilla avenged their Copa del Rey defeat to Valencia with a 2-1 win in Mestalla. Tino Costa put Valencia ahead, but Gary Medel and Jesus Navas gave Sevilla their second win in three games under new coach Michel.
Osasuna kept up the pressure on the top six thanks to a 2-1 home win against Granada: the goals came in the first 31 minutes through Javed Nekounam, Dejan Lekic and Mikel Rico, who gave Granada a chance. Osasuna ended with a player less after Patxi Punal was sent off in the second half.
Real Sociedad also took a big step toward assuring safety with a 1-0 win against Mallorca. Imanol's Agirretxe's 79th minute goal was the difference between two sides looking to escape the relegation zone.
Saturday saw Levante move back into the top four with a 2-1 win away to Espanyol, who had kicked off the weekend in fourth place only to fall behind as former winger Valdo put Levante ahead midway through the first half.
The home side controlled the game but failed to create clear-cut chances against a well-organized Levante defense. However, when Kalu Uche headed home the equalizer with 15 minutes remaining there looked as if they could still win the match only for Levante substitute Ruben Suarez to win the game with an 89th minute free kick that took a deflection to leave Espanyol keeper Kiko Casilla stranded.
The weekend kicked off with two 1-1 draws between Betis and Getafe and relegation threatened Racing Santander and Sporting Gijon.
Jorge Molina scored for Betis in the second half of their game only for his strike to be canceled out by Dorado's own goal five minutes later.
David Barral put Sporting ahead in Santander and the home side equalized from Christian Stauni's penalty kick. The result leaves both sides in the relegation zone.
Malaga enjoyed a 5-1 win over bottom of the table Zaragoza. Carlos Aranda had put the leaders ahead midway through the first half, but Seba Fernandez equalized with the last action of the period.
Paulo Da Silva deflected a cross past his own keeper after 70 minutes to gift Malaga the lead and Zaragoza then fell apart as Martin Demichelis, Izco and Solomon Rondon gave Malaga a score that was more convincing that their performance.
Zaragoza coach Manuel Jimenez later described his side's performance in the last 20 minutes as 'shameful' and Zaragoza have just 15 points from 24 matches.