Madrid, Jan 26 (DPA) Sunday brought tight home wins in the Spanish Liga for Real Madrid and Villarreal, the two teams pursuing runaway leaders Barcelona.
Real beat Mallorca 1-0, and Villarreal came from behind to beat Real Sociedad 2-1.
Real are again four points behind Barca, who thrashed Racing Santander 3-0 Saturday in another exhibition of power and elegance.
Villarreal are third, nine points behind Real but two ahead of local rivals Valencia, who beat Malaga 4-3 Saturday.
Real, who have won all their home matches, played badly against Mallorca but were rescued by goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Karim Benzema.
The French forward was given a rare start by coach Jose Mourinho, who seems to have little faith in him, and responded with the only goal on the hour.
Mourinho tried to freshen up his midfield by bringing in Fernando Gago and Esteban Granero for Xabi Alonso and Mesut Oezil, but was forced to rectify after a turgid first-half display.
Mallorca midfielder Emilio Nsue hit Casillas' post, and Pierre Webo forced two sharp saves from the World Cup winning keeper.
With Oezil and Alonso in the engine room after half-time, Real gradually took control. The only goal came in the 61st minute, when Benzema took a pass from Cristiano Ronaldo and scored with a perfectly placed shot.
Ronaldo then hit the crossbar, and Benzema came close to making it 2-0 on three occasions.
Even so, Casillas had to pull off one final save from Webo in stoppage time.
Real general director Jorge Valdano, locked in a bitter feud with Mourinho, said of Benzema: 'We have asked him for goals, and today he scored a goal, which is worth three points.'
When asked about Real's attempt to bring Ruud Van Nistelrooy back from SV Hamburg, Valdano said: 'We are working on it, and we have this week to resolve it.'
The Bundesliga club have rejected Real's offer of 2 million euros ($2.72 million) for the 34-year-old Dutch veteran.
Later Sunday, Villarreal came from behind to beat Real Sociedad 2-1, thanks to two handsome goals either side of half-time from Guiseppe Rossi.
Earlier Sunday, Espanyol had kept fifth place with a 3-1 comeback win at Getafe, with goals from Luis Garcia, Jose Callejon and Sergio Garcia.
Espanyol are three points behind Valencia but seven ahead of sixth-placed Atletico Madrid, whose horrible form continued with a 1-0 defeat at lowly Sporting Gijon.
The latest setback, coming after Thursday's cup meltdown against neighbours Real, leaves Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores in real jeopardy.
Also Sunday, Almeria, who will face Barcelona in this week's cup semi-finals, moved off the bottom by beating Osasuna 3-2, with two goals from Leonardo Ulloa and one from Carlos Garcia.
Zaragoza, for their part, beat Deportivo Coruna 1-0 with a goal from Dutch midfielder Said Boutahar.
Levante are the new bottom team with just 15 points. Then come Malaga and Almeria on 17, Osasuna on 18, and Zaragoza and Gijon on 19.