Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick as ten-man Real Madrid crushed Sevilla 6-2 on Saturday to storm back to the top of La Liga and a three-point lead over bitter rivals Barcelona.
Jose Callejon, Angel Di Maria and Haltin Altintop were also on target in a match where Jose Mourinho's team were reduced to ten men just before half-time when defender Pepe was given his marching orders.
Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo netted consolations for Sevilla, while Madrid were also indebted to goalkeeper Iker Casillas for a wonder save when they had just a one-goal advantage.
Real are now guaranteed to end 2011 on top with Barcelona playing Brazilian side Santos tomorrow in Japan in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup.
"Sevilla played well but then so did we. Casillas made two important saves at an important time and then our reaction was good," said Real boss Jose Mourinho. "I did not expect the result, we expected to win but not by so many, but we are now out on our own at the top."
Espanyol forge ahead
Espanyol, meanwhile, kept up their push for a European place with a 2-1 victory over Sporting Gijon which kept their opponents in the relegation zone. Sergio Garcia finished well for a deserved winner with seven minutes remaining after a searching pass from full-back Didac Vil.
Thievy Bifouma had opened the scoring for Espanyol on two minutes with an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area. Captain David Barral scored his seventh goal of the season to equalise for Sporting Gijon with a clever near-post flick from a corner in the 60th minute. Meanwhile, Abdel Barrada was the star for Getafe, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over Mallorca.
Finally, Gaizka Toquero scored a late goal for Athletic Bilbao to secure a 2-1 win over Real Zaragoza and leave their opponents rooted to the bottom of the table. In a game featuring two red cards, the result lifted Bilbao to ninth place and puts in doubt the future of Zaragoza coach Javier Aguirre after his side's fifth consecutive defeat.