UEFA Champions League teams Real Madrid, Malaga and Valencia all moved up the Spanish league table with home wins.
Real Madrid beat Celta Vigo 2-0, with goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo, who temporarily went to the top of the individual chart with nine goals.
Real assistant coach Aitor Karanaka said: "We knew that if Celta had possession of the ball they would cause us problems, so we decided to press them strongly in their own half and not let them come out of defence easily.
"Our pressing of their defence took away their confidence and did not let them play in their usual style."
Goalscorer Higuain was full of praise for newcomer Michael Essien, who had to play at left-back because of various defensive injuries.
"We knew that Michael was polyvalent," Higuain said. "He played a great game today in a position which was new for him."
Despite its injuries in defence, Real had few problems against a Celta team who only came out of its defensive shell when it was two goals down.
Higuain made it 1-0 in the 12th minute with an ambitious drive from far out on the left, which took a wicked deflection off defender Gustavo Cabral and drifted in.
It was clearly not going to be Cabral's day. In the 68th minute he pulled down Real playmaker Mesut Oezil, and Ronaldo calmly made it 2-0 from the spot.
Real sub Jose Callejon came close to making it 3-0 on three occasions toward the end.
The comfortable win took Real up to fourth, three points behind third-place Malaga and five behind joint leaders Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.
Barca was scheduled to travel later in the day to Deportivo La Coruna.
Earlier, Malaga had to dig deep to come from behind against Valladolid, who took a shock early lead through Manucho.
Young prospect Isco made it 1-1 for Malaga, former Spain winger Joaquin - who had earlier missed a penalty - netted the winner just three minutes from time.
Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini said: "We have come through a very complicated game. We were in control but we struggled to create chances. I am satisfied, because they were very difficult opponents. It was important for us to win today."
Also, Valencia came from behind to post a memorable late 3-2 defeat of luckless Athletic Bilbao, a result that left the Basques sixth from bottom - and coach Marcelo Bielsa in danger of losing his job.
Valencia, meanwhile, moved up to eighth thanks to the win. With just three minutes left, Bilbao was winning 2-1, thanks to two strikes from veteran Arritz Aduriz.
But the visitor was down to 10 men because of a red card for Ander Herrera, and Tino Costa equalised for Valencia. Supersub Nelson Valdez then sent Mestalla crazy by making it 3-2 with a powerful header, his first goal in La Liga.
Outgoing Real Madrid boss