Cristiano Ronaldo struck his 43rd league goal of the campaign to set Real Madrid on their way to a 3-0 home win over Sevilla yesterday, which put them within a whisker of a first La Liga title in four years.
It was a much-needed return to winning ways for Jose Mourinho's side after the shock of Wednesday's Champions League semi-final elimination by Bayern Munich and they are on the brink of becoming champions. Second-placed Barcelona were due to face Rayo Vallecano last night needing a victory to keep alive their slim title hopes.
Karim Benzema contributed a quickfire double early in the second half as Real moved on to 91 points with three games left, with Barça, whose three-year stranglehold on the Spanish title is almost certainly drawing to an end, 10 adrift on 81.
"We won this game which was very important and now we'll carry on so we can close out the league title," Benzema said in an interview with Spanish television.
"The Champions League is finished so now we need to make sure we win the next most important competition."
Ronaldo's 19th-minute opener at the Bernabeu, scene of Real's dramatic penalty shootout defeat to Bayern, was his 57th in all competitions and he became the first player since Everton's Dixie Dean 80 years ago to score 43 league goals in a single season.
Benzema made it 3-0 with goals in the 48th and 52nd minutes as Sevilla – who squandered a host of good chances – were swatted aside. The Andalusians are ninth on 46 points and in danger of missing out on a lucrative place in European competition next season.
Benzema's goals took his league tally for the campaign to 20 and, with strike partner Gonzalo Higuain on 21, it is the first time three players from one club have scored 20 or more goals in a La Liga season. Their combined total of 84 is 30 more than third-placed Valencia's entire squad has managed.
In Italy, leaders Juventus stayed three points clear at the top of Serie A after they thumped lowly Novara 4-0 and second-placed Milan won 4-1 at Siena, with Antonio Cassano scoring for the first time since heart surgery in October.
Elsewhere, Internazionale moved level on 55 points with third-placed Napoli and Lazio in the pursuit of the final Champions League spot after coming from behind to beat already-relegated Cesena 2-1 thanks to goals from Joel Obi and Mauro Zarate.