Madrid two points behind Barca in La Liga after Higuain and Van der Vaart hit doubles.
|Doomed man: Sanchez before Almeria lost to Espanyol [EPA]|
Valencia missed out on the chance of spending the mid-winter break in third place when they were held to a 0-0 draw at Spanish La Liga rivals Deportivo Coruna.
Depor’s Juan Carlos Valeron came closest to breaking the deadlock when he headed against the crossbar just before half time at the Riazor.
Valencia stay fourth with 29 points from 15 games, one behind third-placed Sevilla who lost 2-1 at home to Getafe on Saturday.
Espanyol scored for the first time in six matches to win 2-0 against fellow strugglers Almeria, who responded to defeat by sacking coach Hugo Sanchez.
Javi Marquez volleyed in for the home team just before the break and Ferran Corominas put away a loose ball nine minutes from time to leave 17th-placed Almeria with only one point from five games.
“The president of the club Alfonso Garcia and vice-president Ricardo Martinez met for an hour with the coach and his number two after the game,” Almeria said in a statement.
“After analysing the situation of the team, the president informed Hugo Sanchez and Sergio Egea they were sacked.”
Former Real Madrid and Mexico striker Sanchez replaced Gonzalo Arconada as coach a year ago.
After a run of five straight defeats Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino will breathe a little easier as his side climbed to 13th on 16 points.
|La Liga results|
Saturday December 19
Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Osasuna
Sunday December 20
Malaga 2-1 Real Mallorca
Malaga rose to 18th with a surprise 2-1 home win over high-flying Mallorca, their second victory this season.
Errors by Mallorca goalkeeper Dudu Aouate gifted goals to Fernando and Fernando Forestieri and ended a run of five consecutive draws for Malaga.
Villarreal continued to climb away from trouble with a 2-0 win over Racing that put them ninth with 21 points.
Atletico Madrid, in 15th spot on 14 points, had goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo to thank for a 1-1 draw at Tenerife as he saved a first-half penalty from Nino.
Leaders and new world club champions Barcelona have 39 points, two ahead of Real Madrid who trounced Real Zaragoza 6-0 on Saturday.
Real Mallorca are fifth with 27 points, the same as Deportivo in sixth, after losing 2-1 at lowly Malaga.
La Liga fixtures resume on January 2.