Higuain wheels away after making the game safe for Real [AFP]  

Real Madrid went top of the Spanish Primera Division on goal difference from Barcelona with a 2-0 win at Racing Santander.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a first-half penalty for the visitors, before Racing fought back to make life awkward for Manuel Pellegrini's side.

Defeat or a draw could have seen them relinquish ascendency in the tightest of Spanish title races ahead of next week's El Clasico meeting with Barcelona.

But Gonzalo Higuain ran onto a long ball over the top with 14 minutes remaining to seal the win for the Madridistas, who host Spanish and European champions Barca at the Bernabeu in a match that could decide the title.

With both title-chasers on 77 points, Real's goal difference over the Catalans is down to a single strike but it is head-to-head results that will count in the event of a points tie at the end of the season.

Real lost 1-0 to Barca at the Nou Camp in their previous meeting.

Ronaldo had the chance to make it 3-0 to Real with five minutes left on Sunday but sidefooted an easy chance over the bar from Argentine Higuain's cross.

Villa brace

Spain striker David Villa scored twice in the last five minutes to help keep Valencia on course for next season's European Champions League with a 3-0 win at home to Osasuna.

Results & fixtures

Saturday April 3

Barcelona 4-1 Ath Bilbao
 Zaragoza 2-0 Malaga
 Sevilla 3-0 Tenerife

Sunday April 4

Getafe 1-1 Espanyol
 Valladolid 0-2 Villarreal
 Gijon 2-2 Xerez
 Almeria 1-1 Mallorca
 Valencia 3-0 Osasuna
 Santander 0-2 Real Madrid
 Atl Madrid v Deportivo

Winger Joaquin struck just after the break at the Mestalla and Villa scored in the 89th and then again from the penalty spot in time added on, to take his tally for the season to 20.

Third-placed Valencia have 56 points from 30 games, eight ahead of Sevilla in fourth with eight games left.

Barcelona top the standings with 77 points, having swept aside sixth-placed Athletic Bilbao 4-1 on Saturday, but Real Madrid can overtake them on goal difference again with a victory away to Racing Santander later on Sunday.

Real Mallorca needed a late goal from Pierre Webo to grab a 1-1 draw away to Almeria, that put them level on 48 points with Sevilla, but fifth due to their inferior head-to-head record.

Villarreal are seventh on 43 points after a 2-0 win away to troubled Real Valladolid, secured with goals from Angel Lopez and Brazil striker Nilmar.

Atletico Madrid were playing Deportivo la Coruna in the late match.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies