Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Raul Gonzalez scored two goals each on Saturday to help Real Madrid beat Real Betis 6-1 and gain on Spanish league leaders Barcelona, who lost to cross-town rivals Espanyol 2-1.
|Real Madrid's Pepe congratulates Klaas Jan Huntelaar after his goal [AFP]
Huntelaar scored both his goals by the 24th minute and Raul added two within four minutes in the first half.
Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Ramos also scored as Madrid won their ninth straight game heading into Wednesday's Champions League match against Liverpool.
The nine straight wins ties Madrid's third best streak in history - and longest since 1985 - although the team will be without Huntelaar against Liverpool because the club chose midfielder Lassana Diarra after only one of the January arrivals was eligible.
Madrid, now with 53 points, move within seven points of Barcelona with the victory.
Chasing the leaders
"I always believed in our chances and now we're seven points behind Barcelona with a game to play at the Bernabeu,'' Madrid defender Pepe said.
Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes' 55th-minute giveaway allowed Ivan de la Pena to score his second goal after halftime to lift Espanyol out of last place with their first victory at the Camp Nou in nearly 27 years.
"He had a bad night but that can happen to any of us,'' Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o said of Valdes.
"We had a bad day, but you have to recover and move forward.''
Yaya Toure scored in the 62nd minute for Barcelona, who had a 22-game league unbeaten run snapped going into Tuesday's Champions League match against French leader Lyon.
Two other Spanish clubs went into their midweek Champions League games with mixed results on Saturday after Villarreal rallied for a 2-1 win over Sporting Gijon and Atletico Madrid lost at third-place Sevilla 1-0.
Joan Capdevila's 35th-minute header led Villarreal, who play against Panathinaikos on Wednesday, while Sevilla's Jesus Navas side-footed in a goal in the 87th to send Atletico into Tuesday's meeting with FC Porto in poor form.
Sevilla have 44 points, followed by Villarreal with 41.
Atletico and Malaga have 36 points each, two less than Valencia, who play Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.
|An unhappy bunch of Barca players swarm the referee [AFP]
Barcelona, who saw an overall 29-game unbeaten run against Spanish opponents snapped, played with 10 from the 38th after Seydou Keita was red-carded.
''(The referee) made a mistake,'' Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said.
"We lost to circumstances rather than our own game.''
De la Pena took advantage of the extra space to sit unmarked at the far post in the 50th and meet Nene's cross with his head.
Espanyol secured their first victory since November when Valdes sloppily passed directly to De la Pena in the 55th and the former Barcelona player sent a long-range chip into the top corner as Barcelona trailed 2-0 for the second straight week, although they weren't short a man when they rallied for a 2-2 draw at Betis.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola surprisingly removed Eto'o - the league's leading scorer - for Eidur Gudjohnsen in the 66th.
"That's he thought was best for the team,'' Eto'o said. "There's nothing more to say about it.''
Barcelona saw chances from Gudjohnsen and Daniel Alves cleared in the dying moments as they lost for the first time since opening day.
"After so many weeks without winning, these three points are fundamental,'' said Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino, whose team plays Madrid next.
At the Santiago Bernabeu, Raul headed a cross to Higuain in the seventh and the Argentina striker dragged with his right to round goalkeeper Ricardo Soares and score his 14th of the season.
Huntelaar scored for the second straight game after Ricardo could not hold Marcelo's 15th-minute cross and pushed it onto the path of the Netherlands striker to volley home.
The Portugal goalkeeper saved Huntelaar's header in the 24th but the Dutchman immediately poked in the rebound.
Ricardo Oliveira beat Iker Casillas with long-range curler in the 30th for Betis.
Raul scored in the 37th after volleying Marcelo's low cross home with his left foot from the edge of the area. Madrid's all-time leading scorer took his tally to 311 in the 42nd by scooping over Ricardo from a tight angle for his 13th of the season.
Ramos scored with a lunging header in the 45th and Madrid coach Juande Ramos was able to make second-half changes, bringing in Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Jose Maria "Guti'' Gutierrez, who had not played since December.
But that triple substitution in the 46th could prove costly after defender Gabriel Heinze played the entire second half despite appearing to injure himself early on.
|Sevilla's Federico Fazio gets to the ball first [AFP]
Atletico defender Luis Perea was taken to the hospital after being knocked out in a collision with Sevilla's Ndri Romaric.
The Colombia defender, who was taken off by stretcher and placed in a neck brace, lost consciousness for more than a minute but was seen alert and talking later.
Atletico striker Diego Forlan hit the underside of the crossbar from point-blank range early on and Maxi Rodriguez shot wide in the second half before Navas burst into the area and used a sly right foot to role in the late winner.
Mate Bilic scored only 23 seconds into the match at El Madrigal to put Sporting, who have now lost five of six, ahead.
But Villarreal responded just over a minute later through Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi's 12th of the season before Capdevila found himself alone in the penalty box for only Villarreal's fourth win in 15 games.
Games on Sunday are: Valladolid vs. Malaga; Recreativo Huelva vs. Almeria; Mallorca vs. Racing Santander; Osasuna vs. Numancia; and Getafe vs. Athletic Bilbao.