Real Madrid came from a goal down beat basement boys Osasuna 3-1 on Sunday, cutting Barcelona's lead at the top to 12 points. The victory brought an end to a week of fighting in the boardroom and left the Spanish giants in second place in La Liga, moving ahead of Sevilla on goal difference. However Real were fortunate to survive two strong penalty claims and laboured to victory, which was stark contrast to their Catalan rivals who thrashed Deportivo La Coruna 5-0 on Saturday night.
"We scored three goals and got three points which is what we wanted," said Real boss Juande Ramos. Barcelona are playing magnificent football and that is why they are getting good results. We are not playing so well but are getting good results and wins give you confidence and the ability to play better."
Osasuna went ahead through Iranian international Javad Nekounam's 19th-minute header but gifted Real an equaliser early in the second half with goalkeeper Roberto allowing Sergio Ramos's tame shot to creep in.
Valencia lost ground on Real and Sevilla after falling to a 3-2 defeat at Athletic Bilbao. Valencia twice took the lead but Fernando Llorente, recently capped by Spain, scored a 90th-minute penalty to win the game and Valencia are now four points behind second-placed Real.
Atletico Madrid failed to take full advantage of Valencia's slip drawing 1-1 at Almeria who played with ten men from the 53rd minute. It was a match-up between two Mexican managers in Javier Aguirre and Hugo Sanchez - compatriots and long time friends - but there was no victor as Florent Sinama Pongolle cancelled out Kalu Uche's opener.
Atletico now sit sixth, three points off the UEFA Champions League places. "We don't have as many points as we wanted at this stage but there is still the second half of the season to achieve our aims," said goalscorer Pongolle.
Real's preparations for the Osasuna match had been far from perfect with president Ramon Calderon resigning on Friday, creating more unstability at the club who only axed coach Bernd Schuster before Christmas. Real almost scored after 24 seconds with Higuain showing a great turn of pace to get into the penalty area only to have his shot saved.
Osasuna had almost beaten Barcelona last weekend - conceding two late goals to lose 3-2 - and took a 19th minute lead on Sunday when Jaroslav Plasil got down the byline and whipped in a great cross for Nekounam to head home. It was the first goal Real had conceded since the 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in mid-December.
Ramos thought he had equalised in the 37th minute but the goal was ruled out for offside. After the break the Spanish international got his goal with his speculative shot fumbled by keeper Roberto who allowed the ball to loop over his body. Robben then set up Higuain for a simple tap-in and scored himself in the dying seconds.
Osasuna coach Jose Antonio Camacho was livid and lashed out at referee Alfonso Perez Burrull. "The whole world saw the penalty and he (Perez Burrull) did too because he signalled a penalty," fumed Camacho. "Referees make mistakes like everybody else but then he maintains this cocky attitude."
Villarreal ended a miserable run with a 2-0 triumph over Real Mallorca to rise to fifth, a point behind Valencia. The club had taken one point from their last 12 before the Mallorca match but a Joan Capdevila strike and a Giuseppe Rossi penalty got them back on the winning trail.