Wins for Real & Villarreal
Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid defeated Celta Vigo 3-0 at the Bernabeu, while Villarreal enjoyed a 5-2 victory at Rayo Vallecano.
Visitors Celta Vigo were not content to sit back and defend, and spurned several chances to break the deadlock before Karim Benzema eased the tension around the Bernabeu with a clever finish in the 67th minute.
Ronaldo then bagged his 19th and 20th Primera Division goals of the season to settle any lingering nerves late on as Carlo Ancelotti's men once again closed the gap on the league's frontrunners, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, to five points.
It was far from a dominant display by the Spanish giants, but they are now on a 13-game unbeaten run, while their beaten opponents will be left to wonder what might have been after succumbing to their third defeat in four matches in all competitions.
Ikechukwu Uche's hat-trick provided the inspiration for Villarreal to seal a slightly flattering 5-2 victory at struggling Rayo Vallecano.
Uche opened the scoring after just 10 minutes and Hernan Perez's brace before half-time put the Yellow Submarine firmly on course for all three points, with Vallecano made to pay for poor finishing.
Uche then scored his second and third after the break to complete the rout, with Nery Castillo's double - the second from the penalty spot - for the home side proving mere consolation.
It was the ideal start to 2014 for Villarreal, who suffered back-to-back defeats before the winter break, albeit against a side that have not won in the league since November 9 and who now lie above only beleaguered Real Betis in the standings.