Villarreal, down to 10 men for 37 minutes, lost 1-0 away to Sevilla to leave Barcelona eight points clear at the top of the Primera Liga on Sunday.
Building on last weekend’s 4-3 away win over champions Real Madrid, Sevilla took the lead when Brazilian midfielder Renato scored from Frederic Kanoute’s flick on, just before the break.
Villarreal had top scorer Joseba Llorente sent off for a second yellow card early in the second half and visiting keeper Diego Lopez made a string of saves to deny Sevilla a second.
“It was important to take another three points off a direct rival,” Sevilla’s Serbian defender Ivica Dragutinovic told reporters.
“We are improving game by game and I am sure we can stay in the Champions League places and challenge for the title.”
Sevilla climbed to third with 30 points from 15 matches, behind Valencia only on goal difference. Valencia came from behind to beat Espanyol 2-1 on Saturday.
Barcelona lead the standings with 38 points after beating arch-rivals Real Madrid 2-0 at the Nou Camp on Saturday.
Villarreal, who have only one win from their last five league games, slipped to fourth with 29 points.
Argentina duo Maxi Rodriguez and Sergio Aguero scored to give Atletico Madrid a 2-0 home win over Real Betis in the late game, that put them fifth with 27 points. City rivals Real dropped down to sixth with 26.
Maxi raced onto Maniche’s pass to score in the 20th minute and the home side lived dangerously in the second half until Aguero broke free near the end to secure the win.
Real Valladolid continued their climb up the standings with an impressive 3-0 home victory over Deportivo Coruna to go eighth with 23 points, one short of Depor.
Jonathan Sesma turned in Pedro Leon’s cross early on and Pedro Lopez doubled the lead with a spectacular 40-metre shot which caught visiting keeper Daniel Aranzubia off his line.
Leon sealed the win in the second half, dribbling down the right flank and firing high into the top corner from a tight angle.
At the foot of the standings, a late goal from Adrian Colunga earned struggling Recreativo Huelva their first home win of the season, 1-0 against basement side Osasuna. (Editing by Rex Gowar)