MADRID, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Real Madrid charged seven points clear at the top of the Primera Liga after a second-half strike from Ruud van Nistelrooy earned a 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
The Dutchman angled a powerful right-foot shot into the far corner of the net after 55 minutes to take his tally for the season to seven in the league.
The victory gave Bernd Schuster's side 35 points from 15 matches, seven ahead of Barcelona and Villarreal who both play on Sunday.
Earlier, Ronald Koeman's Valencia continued their poor run of form with a 0-0 draw at Osasuna.
The Dutchman decided to field a new-look side after last weekend's 3-0 home defeat by Bilbao but his tactical changes had little effect as Valencia turned in another laboured performance.
Valencia, who have won two of their last seven league matches and have failed to find the net in their last three, remain sixth, 10 points behind Real.
Athletic thrashed Valencia 3-0 last weekend and made an ambitious start in front of their home crowd, striker Fernando Llorente heading over the bar and midfielder David Lopez firing straight at keeper Iker Casillas in the first few minutes.
But Real rose to the challenge, Bilbao keeper Daniel Aranzubia having to make two great reaction saves to stop quickfire shots from Raul and Robinho.
Casillas produced a stunning save of his own to block a point-blank header from Llorente just before the half hour, but despite plenty of action in both areas neither side was able to break the deadlock before halftime.
It took just one error from Athletic early in the second half for that to change, Van Nistelrooy snapping the ball off the foot of defender, cutting inside towards the area and firing an angled shot into the far corner to put his side ahead.
The former Manchester United player was only denied a second when defender Koikili whipped the ball away from his feet as he was bearing down on goal, while Robinho hit the base of the post soon after with a fierce drive from distance.
Athletic refused to wilt under the pressure and Llorente and Andoni Iraola both went close late on in an exciting finale.