A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick helped second-placed Real Madrid overcome third-placed Villarreal 4-2 in a hard-fought encounter at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The visitors led twice through Cani and Marco Ruben, but Ronaldo equalized on both occasions before making the break through with his third in the second half. He then set up Kaka in the 82nd minute, helping the Brazilian score his first goal since returning from injury, to secure the victory and remain two points behind leaders Barcelona.
Villarreal put in a terrific display, and at times led to fears of a first home defeat for Madrid. However, the Los Blancos turned the heat on in the second half, as a brilliant Ronaldo gave them lead with his hat-trick goal - his 22nd league goal of the campaign and his fourth hat-trick so far this season.
Real boss Jose Mourinho was impressed by Villarreal though they are a massive 11 points behind Madrid. Jose said, We deserved to win for the courage we had in the second half. The team was marvelous. At the start Villarreal were fantastic and Madrid were bad. I didn't like it that our opponents played such an exceptional game in the first half. Villarreal are the best team to have come here and those who have come the closest to winning.
A fairer score line at half-time would have been 3-1 to Villarreal. We made it 2-2 when we didn't deserve it, because they had control of the game. Because of them, we didn't do very much. During the break I spoke with the players. I told them that it was a false score line and that I wanted to change the system, and especially the way we pressurized them. And the game changed completely. I took a risk and switched Kaka for (Raul) Albiol, and we won.
You cannot sit back and wait in a championship where the leaders have only dropped five points and the second-placed team seven. We need to give it everything.''
Meanwhile, Barcelona extended their unbeaten run in the league to 26 matches with a 4-0 win at Deportivo Coruna, inspired by the ever-excellent Lionel Messi.
The Argentine World Player of the Year, who will know whether he has won the FIFA Ballon d'Or for the second time against his Barca team-mates Xavi and Iniesta on Monday, set up two and scored one goal in the 4-0 romp. He set up David Villa's opener before scoring the second himself in the 51st minute. Iniesta scored Barca's third in the 80th minute before Messi's driving run allowed Pedro to make it 4-0.
Barcelona lead the La Liga with 49 points, closely followed by Real Madrid at 47. Villarreal are third with 36 points with Valencia sitting at fourth with 34 points.