A Sunday of home wins in the Spanish football league has left Villarreal and Espanyol third and fourth in the standings.
Villarreal beat Sevilla 1-0 and Espanyol overcame lowly Sporting Gijon by the same score.
Once again, Villarreal were invigorated by young strikers Nilmar and Guiseppe Rossi, both of whom are in excellent form this season.
The only goal came in the 30th minute and was another example of the telepathy between them. Rossi set up Nilmar with a clever through-ball and the Brazilian calmly beat veteran Sevilla keeper Andres Palop with a low drive.
Sevilla, whose form is terrible, pressed for an equalizer in the second half, but were unlucky to have a goal from Alvaro Negredo wrongly disallowed for offside.
The latest defeat leaves Sevilla stranded in ninth place.
Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido said: "We knew we were going to meet a strong team and that it would not be easy. Sevilla pressed us strongly, but we knew how to win and take three points."
Garrido's team are third, five points behind second-placed Real Madrid and seven behind leaders Barcelona.
Saturday, Barca won 3-0 away to Osasuna, then Real beat Valencia 2-0 in Madrid.
Villarreal are two points ahead of Espanyol, who earlier Sunday kept up their perfect home record with a late 1-0 defeat of lowly Sporting Gijon.
But Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino said that "we must keep our feet firmly on the ground, and continue to work with humility."
Pochettino's young team won despite the sending-off of midfielder Jose Baena in the 53rd minute.
The only goal of a tight clash came 20 minutes from the end when former Spain striker Luis Garcia took a pass from Jose Callejon and scored after rounding Gijon goalkeeper Juan Pablo.
Espanyol have won all seven of their home matches, the same as Real Madrid. They are two points above fifth-placed Valencia.
In Sunday's late match, Real Sociedad beat Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at home and moved up to sixth, their highest placing since they almost won La Liga in 2003.
Xabi Prieto gave Sociedad the lead from a penalty in the 27th minute, after handball by Mikel San Jose. The Bilbao defender then completed a nightmare performance by scoring a clumsy own goal five minutes into the second half.
Sociedad are now one point above a Mallorca side who crashed 3-0 at Getafe, with Pedro Rios scoring twice.
Another two-goal hero on Sunday was Venezuelan striker Jose Rondon, who hit a brace in Malaga's 4-1 destruction of Racing Santander.
Sunday's other early game was a 1-1 draw between strugglers Almeria and Zaragoza. This stalemate left Zaragoza bottom with just nine points. Then come Almeria and Gijon on 10, then Malaga on 13.