Atletico Madrid missed a chance to seize top spot outright from Barcelona when they were beaten 1-0 at Malaga while chasing Real Madrid closed to within two points of the leaders thanks to a 10-2 demolition of nine-man Rayo Vallecano.
Captain Gabi was sent off for Atletico 11 minutes into the second half and Malaga made the breakthrough three minutes from time.
Real put hapless Rayo to the sword at the Bernabeu as Wales forward Gareth Bale helped himself to the first four-goal haul of his career, Karim Benzema netted a hat-trick and Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice.
Barca and Atletico have 35 points, with the Spanish and European champions having played one game fewer. Real are third on 33 while Celta Vigo and Villarreal stayed hard on their heels when they each won 2-0, at Granada and Real Sociedad respectively.