Centre-back Pepe headed home the only goal of the game at the start of the second half as Madrid took full advantage of the goalless draw between the joint pacesetters on Saturday night.
The victory was Madrid’s eighth in nine games since their last league loss, which was the 2-1 defeat at Barça in October, but it was closer than they would have liked with their much-vaunted attack failing to make the most of a host of chances to finish the game off.
For once, it was Cristiano Ronaldo – who brought up 400 career goals in Madrid’s win over Celta Vigo last week – who had forgotten his shooting boots as he missed out on a hat-trick of great openings in the final half-hour.
Betis remain bottom after Osasuna loss, Levante win
Real Betis remained cast adrift at the bottom of the league after they were beaten 2-1 at home by Osasuna in a game which saw both sides finish with ten men.
Roberto Torres fired Osasuna ahead in only the second minute with Betis put under further pressure seven minutes before the break when Nono was sent off for his second bookable offence for a foul on Oriol Riera.
The problems continued for Betis with a 57th-minute own goal from Jordi Figueras putting Osasuna 2-0 up. Then, shortly after, the home side missed a penalty through Ruben Castro following a challenge by Andres Fernandez which saw the Osasuna goalkeeper sent off.
Jorge Molina Vidal did pull a goal back for Betis in the 80th minute but it was not enough to close the gap on second-bottom Rayo Vallecano, who won away to Getafe 1-0, or next-best Real Valladolid, who are both six points to the good in the other two relegation places.
Levante climbed into the top ten of the La Liga standings after claiming a hard-fought 1-0 win over Malaga on Sunday night.
David Barral headed the only goal of the game for the home side from a set-piece corner in the 19th minute as Levante got a much-needed victory after losing six of their previous seven in La Liga.
Barral did well to find the net as he leapt the highest among a mass of bodies to nod Andreas Ivanschitz’s corner past Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero at the far post.
The result lifted Levante into tenth place in the overall standings, while Malaga slipped to 14th.