Two penalties from Cristiano Ronaldo helped Real Madrid to a 4-1 win over Atheltic Bilbao and keeps them five points clear of second-placed Barcelona.
In-form Athletic had threatened to add to Madrid's misery following their 2-1 home loss to Barca in the first leg of their cup quarter-final tie when Fernando Llorente gave them an early lead.
However, Jose Mourinho's men drew level soon after through Marcelo before two second-half penalties from Cristiano Ronaldo and a late goal from Jose Callejon helped Madrid finish them off.
Athletic played out the final 24 minutes with a man less after Oscar De Marcos was dismissed in the incident that led to Ronaldo's second successful penalty as the Basque side suffered only a second defeat in 15 league games.
Lionel Messi scored his fifth hat-trick of the season as Barcelona posted a comfortable 4-1 victory at Malaga to keep pace at the top.
Victor Valdes made three fine saves to prevent Isco giving the hosts the lead early on, but Barca took control just after the half-hour mark as Messi gave Willy Caballero no chance with a powerful header from Adriano's cross.
And the visitors made sure of the three points with two quickfire goals early in the second half as Alexis Sanchez fired home from close range before Messi got his second of the day with a wonderful run and finish.
The Argentinian completed his treble on 81 minutes as he again left the Malaga defence in his wake before slipping the ball past Caballero from a narrow angle, but Salomon Rondon did get a consolation for the hosts five minutes later with a neat finish after Valdes had parried Recio's effort.
Valencia's disappointing start to 2012 continued as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Osasuna.
Having taken one point from matches against Villarreal and Real Sociedad since the winter break, Los Che needed a win to have any chance of keeping in touch with the Primera Division's leading pair.
They appeared to be on their way when Roberto Soldado gave them a scarcely deserved lead in the 85th minute, but Valencia self-destructed in stoppage time as David Albelda was sent off and Lolo levelled from the resulting free-kick.
Ivan Ramis' second-half header earned Real Mallorca a hard-fought 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano.
Mallorca enjoyed the bulk of possession in the first period, but it was the hosts who created the better chances - Jose Manuel Casado firing wide after a good run in behind the Mallorca defence and then hitting the bar with a cross that deceived Dudu Aouate.
The visitors went in front 12 minutes into the second half, though, as Ramis rose to power home Chori Castro's free-kick. Rayo threw players forward in search of an equaliser but it was Mallorca who should have scored again late on as Victor Casadesus ran through on goal only to flash his shot over the bar.
Fourth-placed Levante's poor recent run continued as they were held to a 0-0 draw by bottom club Real Zaragoza at the Ciutat de Valencia.
In a match that saw precious little goalmouth action, Zaragoza striker Helder Postiga might have claimed only a third Primera Division win of the season for his side with a late opening, but he could not take advantage.
At the other end depleted Levante barely threatened and, after their stunning run of seven successive wins earlier this season, they have now picked up only eight points from a possible 30.