By Chris Stanton. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
Samuel Eto'o's first half goal gave Barcelona a 1-0 win over struggling Levante after Sevilla had briefly deposed the champions at the summit.
Frank Rijkaard's team passed up a host of opportunities at Camp Nou and were, in the end, grateful for Eto'o's 28th minute shot through a crowded area.
The margin of victory should have been much greater with Ronaldinho time and again denied by Levante goalkeeper Molina, but the biggest culprit was Lionel Messi who missed inexplicably an open goal with the clock ticking down.
Real Madrid are in the best form of the title chasers and served further notice of their intent with a comprehensive 4-1 win at Athletic Bilbao.
David Beckham was to the fore throughout and set up Real's opener, his cross being headed home by Sergio Ramos in the 15th minute.
It was 2-0 on 35 when Ruud van Nistelrooy headed home from Cicinho's back post cross and the Dutchman then lashed home his 10th goal in his last 12 games five minutes after the interval.
Bilbao pulled a goal back through Fernando Llorente in the 81st minute but in chasing the game the hosts over committed and Guti (84) struck on the counter.
One black mark on a good night for Fabio Capello's side was a second half booking for Beckham that will keep the former England captain out of next weekend's crunch clash with Sevilla.
Just two points separate the top three clubs after Sevilla kept up their title challenge with a 3-1 win over Espanyol.
After a goalless first half, Sevilla burst into action against Espanyol with two goals in two minutes from Antonio Puerta (51) and Ernesto Chevanton (53).
Although Ferran Corominas pulled a goal back for the visitors shortly after the hour, Jose Marti put the seal on the win for Juande Ramos's team a quarter of an hour from time.
Celta Vigo have slipped into the bottom three on goal difference after falling to a 3-0 defeat at home to Real Mallorca, with the goals coming from Juan Arango (11), Fernando Varela (23) and Maxi Lopez (79).
Francisco Ruano's 71st minute goal gave Getafe a 1-0 win over second-from-bottom Real Sociedad, while Villarreal compounded the problems of bottom club Gimnastic with Diego Forlan (18 & 79) and Matias Fernandez (90) all on target in a 3-0 win.
European hopefuls Real Zaragoza were grateful to Sergio Garcia's 90th minute goal for rescuing a 2-2 draw at Osasuna.
Gomez Juanlu handed Osasuna a fifth minute lead before the hosts were pegged back by Pablo Aimar (12). Valdo's 55th minute strike appeared to have been enough to claim the three points until Garcia's late intervention.
Racing Santander's hopes of overhauling Zaragoza and company took a blow after the hosts managed only a goalless draw at home to fellow mid-table side Deportivo La Coruna.
Click below for an individual match summary:
Athletic Bilbao 1-4 Real Madrid
Barcelona 1-0 Levante
Celta Vigo 0-3 Real Mallorca
Getafe 1-0 Real Sociedad
Gimnastic 0-3 Villarreal
Osasuna 2-2 Real Zaragoza
Racing Santander 0-0 Deportivo La Coruna
Sevilla 3-1 Espanyol