Despite being reduced to ten men when midfielder Jose Baena sent off on 52 minutes, Espanyol marched on to defeat Sporting Gijon 1-0 at home. Luis Garcia scored a 69th-minute winner to move Espanyol four points clear of fifth-placed Valencia and just two points shy of third-placed Villarreal.
It was a third consecutive league victory and a perfect seventh win from seven at home for Espanyol who join Real Madrid in having a flawless home record.
"There is still a long way to go in the league but dreaming of the Champions League is no longer forbidden," said Espanyol goalkeeper Carlos Kameni. "We are up there on our merit and it's something we can enjoy."
Elsewhere in Spain today, Villarreal reclaimed third place in the Spanish first division with a 1-0 home win over Champions League rivals Sevilla with Brazilian striker Nilmar's ninth league goal of the season sealing victory.
Nilmar, the club's record signing at €11 million, struck on 29 minutes as Villarreal made it 19 points from 21 at home and climbed back into third. For Sevilla it was a third successive league defeat and the club trail Villarreal by ten points in the standings and are eight points off the UEFA Champions League qualification seats.
Relegation rivals Almeria and Real Zaragoza shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw. Argentine Pablo Piatti equalised for Almeria in the 77th minute after Zaragoza had gone ahead with a penalty 10 minutes earlier. Zaragoza stay bottom with new coach Javier Aguirre still waiting for his first win in charge after collecting two points from his three games at the helm. New Almeria manager Jose Luis Oltra is also waiting for his first win as his side stay second from bottom a point above Zaragoza.
In other matches, Malaga moved out of the bottom three with a thumping 4-1 home win over Racing Santander on Sunday. After failing to score in their last two matches Malaga went goal crazy with Venezuelan international striker Jose Rondon scoring twice in as many minutes as the club moved out of the relegation places with Sporting Gijon taking their place.
In Sunday's late match, Real Sociedad defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in a a Basque derby that Bilbao defender Mikel San Jose will be eager to forget. The defender's handball allowed Xabi Prieto to open the scoring from the spot in the 26th minute and he then turned a Prieto cross into his own net early in the second half. The derby win moved Sociedad above the likes of Sevilla and Atletico Madrid into the top six.
At the top champions Barcelona stayed two points clear of Real Madrid with a 3-0 win at Osasuna on Saturday thanks to a Lionel Messi brace.
Barcelona had a nightmare preparation for the match with a hastily-arranged five-hour train and coach journey to Pamplona after the Spanish Football Federation reversed their initial decision to postpone the fixture to Sunday.
Real Madrid had no such travel problems with a home match against Valencia and Cristiano Ronaldo scored both goals as Real defeated Valencia 2-0 to bounce back from their 5-0 Clasico drubbing to Barcelona at Camp Nou.
"Cristiano didn't surprise me at all, he is a winner and I knew he would stand up to be counted and I knew he would do well," said Real coach Jose Mourinho.