Barcelona edged closer to the title with a comprehensive 4-0 win over a Malaga – a victory which takes them six points clear of arch-rivals Real Madrid.

Oleguer opened the scoring after 21 minutes, and French winger Ludovic Giuly doubled the advantage twelve minutes before the break. The French international then added a second before substitute Gerard completed the rout.

Twenty four hours earlier, nine-men Real prevailed in an ill-tempered contest against Villarreal. Walter Samuel and Zinedine Zidane were both dimissed at the Bernabeu as Madrid came from behind to earn all three points.

Riquelme had put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot after Francisco Pavon was harshly adjudged to have fouled Diego Forlan. But second-half goals from Ronalo and Salgado were enough to secure the win for Vanerlei Luxemburgo’s team.

Sevilla strengthened their hold on third place with a good 3-1 win away at Athletic Bilbao.

Julio Baptista scored twice, while highly-rated youngster Jesus Navas also scored before Bilbao claimed a consolation strike four minutes from time through Julen Guerrero.

Sevilla’s neighbours Real Betis slipped up in their bid for the Champions League spots as they went down 3-2 at home to Real Sociedad.

Sociedad took the lead after just five minutes through Mikel Labaka, although Betis hit back thanks to much-coveted winger Joaquin and top scorer Ricardo Oliveira before goals from Jose Barkero and Gari Uranga gave the points to the visitors.

Valencia overtook Betis in the hunt for the European places thanks to a 2-0 win over Albacete.

Mista and Miguel Angulo were on target for last season’s champions, although their cause was helped by the dismissal of Albacete’s Miguel Buades on the hour.

Espanyol also leap-frogged Betis, one point ahead of Valencia, after a 3-1 win over Real Zaragoza.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Racing Santander picked up a vital three points against Deportivo.

Albert Luque put the home side ahead after 20 minutes, and Deportivo remained ahead until the hour when a seven minute spell saw Santander net three times, through Javi Guerrero and a hat-trick from Israeli international Yossi Benayoun.

Struggling Mallorca beat bottom of the table Numancia 2-1 to boost their slender survival hopes. The victory closed the gap to seven points on fourth bottom Levante who slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Getafe.