Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice and missed a penalty as Real Madrid eased the pressure on under fire coach Rafael Benitez with a 3-1 win over Real Sociedad.
However, Real still trail local rivals Atletico Madrid by two points after they moved top of the table thanks to late goals from Angel Correa and Antoine Griezmann in a 2-0 win at Rayo Vallecano.
Barcelona can retake top spot when they host Real Betis later on Wednesday.
Ronaldo recovered from a terrible start after blasting his first penalty of the day over the bar to put Madrid in front from another spot-kick just before half-time.
Bruma levelled for an injury-hit Sociedad minutes after the break, but Ronaldo delivered when his side needed a goal once more to restore the lead 23 minutes from time before Lucas Vasquez added a late third.
“Apart from 10 minutes when they were in command, we controlled the game and had a lot of chances, which, if we had taken them, would have made the second-half more comfortable,” said Benitez.
“I congratulate the players for their attitude from start to finish. We worked hard, reacted well and got the three points.”
Rumours over Benitez’s future refuse to go away after a disappointing first six months in charge at the Bernabeu with the former Liverpool boss even claiming there is a media conspiracy against him on Tuesday.
However, Madrid had hit 22 goals in their previous three games at home and were only denied another flying start by a hat-trick of brilliant saves from Geronimo Rulli.
The Argentine ‘keeper tipped over Pepe’s looping header before showing great reflexes to deny Ronaldo and Karim Benzema from close range.
- Controversial penalties –
Sociedad’s luck seemed completely out in the first-half, though, as they lost top-scorer Imanol Agirretxe and playmaker Sergio Canales to injury and saw referee Jose Luis Gonzalez award Madrid two controversial penalties.
The first spot-kick was given for an apparent push by Yuri Beriche on Benzema at the back post.
Yet, for the first time in his Madrid career, Ronaldo failed to even hit the target from the spot as he blasted wildly over.
The World Player of the Year made amends three minutes before half-time when he converted his second penalty after Yuri was again penalised for blocking Gareth Bale’s cross with an outstretched hand.
Despite the adversity they faced, Sociedad kept the ball off Madrid for long spells and hauled themselves level in spectacular style four minutes after the break when Bruma curled home his first league goal for the club into the top corner.
Yet, despite all their troubles, Ronaldo remains ever reliable source of goals and he delivered once more with a sweetly struck volley from Marcelo’s corner for his 25th goal of the season.
And Vazquez ensured all three points when he coolly controlled and finished Bale’s fine cross to make it 3-1 three minutes from time.
Atletico looked to be heading for a second consecutive disappointing result after losing 1-0 at Malaga before the 10-day winter break as Rayo’s defence – fresh from conceding 10 to Real Madrid last time out – stood firm for 88 minutes at Vallecas.
Fernando Torres missed another great chance for his 100th Atletico goal early on, whilst captain Diego Godin was denied by a great save from Yoel Rodriguez after the break.
However, Diego Simeone’s substitutions swung the game in Atletico’s favour as Thomas Partey teed up Correa to smash home his first goal in three months.
And another substitute Jackson Martinez then played in Griezmann to register his 13th goal of the season with a lovely dinked finish two minutes later.