Gareth Bale continued to prove his worth to Real Madrid after last summer's $130 million transfer by scoring the first goal and making the second in a 4-2 win over Villarreal that put the Madridistas top of the Primera Division.
Karim Benzema got two and Jese Rodriguez the other as the supporting cast to Cristiano Ronaldo starred in the world player of the year's absence through suspension.
"It's great to be back on the pitch and get a goal and an assist as well," Bale said after coming back from two games out with a leg injury.
"(Ronaldo) is obviously missed. He is the world's best player. We knew we had to do the job without him."
Real's victory threw down the gauntlet to city rivals Atletico, who failed to meet the challenge when Almeria midfielder Verza scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Diego Simeone's men in the late game.
Friday February 7
Espanyol 1-0 Granada
Saturday February 8
Almeria 2-0 Atletico Madrid
Rayo Vallecano 4-1 Malaga
Real Madrid 4-2 Villarreal
Valencia 5-0 Real Betis
Sunday February 9
Osasuna v Getafe
Real Sociedad v Levante
Real Valladolid v Elche
Sevilla v Barcelona
Monday February 10
Celta Vigo v Athletic Bilbao
Atletico, who had lost for the first time since October when Real beat them in the Copa del Rey in midweek, slip to second on goal difference, with both Madrid teams on 57 points.
Barcelona can go level when they play Sevilla on Sunday.
"We faced a side that did what they had to do. In the first half we made chances to score," Simeone said after Atletico's hopes of breaking Real and Barca's 10-year stranglehold on the Spanish title took a dive.
"This is what happens in football and we are not going to make any excuses."
Ronaldo had been sent off for appearing to drag his knuckles down the face of Athletic Bilbao's Carlos Gurpegi last week, handing him a one-game suspension, while a gesture he made as he walked off the pitch cost the 22-goal forward a further two matches on the sidelines.
Bale ensured the Bernabeu didn't feel the Portuguese star's absence too keenly in the seventh minute on Saturday when he took advantage of defender Jose Dorado's unfortunate decision to try and dribble past him just outside the area.
The Welshman robbed the ball, which was in the back of the net seconds later after a cool chip over goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo - who is on loan at Villarreal from Atletico.
Bale then crossed for France striker Benzema to score his 12th goal of the season, before Mario Gaspar made it 2-1 just before half time.
Jese scored midway through the second half, before setting up Benzema to crown a 4-2 win after Giovanni dos Santos had given the visitors hope.
Final in sight
Carlo Ancelotti's side extend their winning streak to 23 games in all competitions. Making it 24 would see them into the final of the Copa del Rey, with their second leg against Atletico coming up on Tuesday.
Elsewhere Valencia thrashed bottom club Real Betis 5-0 as they continued to show a turnaround under coach Juan Pizzi, while Rayo Vallecano broke a run of six home losses by humbling 10-man Malaga 4-1 to move within two points of safety.
Striker Pablo Alcacer scored twice for Valencia, with Jeremy Mathieu, Sofiane Feghouli and newcomer Eduardo Vargas adding goals at Mestalla.
Valencia have climbed into eighth place with three wins, two draws and one defeat since Pizzi took over last month.
Rayo beat Malaga thanks to Iago Falque's double and goals by Anaitz Arbilla and Joaquin Larrivey. Malaga played with 10 men during the second half after Sergio Sanchez was sent off for a second yellow.