( dpa ) - A 2-0 home win against Sevilla on Saturday pulled Athletic Bilbao out of trouble in Spain - at least for the time being.
Earlier in the day, Barcelona thrashed feeble Murcia 4-0 with two late goals from Samuel Eto'o, who now leaves to join Cameroon for the African Nations Cup.
On Sunday Real are away to bottom team Levante. The whites are already guaranteed the title of "Winter Champions" - top team at the halfway stage - no matter what happens against Levante.
Bilbao started the day in 17th place, fourth from the bottom, but finish it in ninth, with 22 points from 19 games. Sevilla stay in eighth place with 26 points.
"It was so important for us to win tonight," Bilbao veteran Pablo Orbaiz told televsion channel La Sexta. "It's lovely to make such a big jump in the table."
The talented but inconsistent Fran Yeste shot Bilbao ahead with his sweet left foot in the 28th minute after being put through by David Lopez.
Things went from bad to worse for Sevilla in the 53rd minute, when defender Julien Escude was sent off after an ugly scuffle with Aritz Aduriz.
In the 77th minute teenager Markel Susaeta made it 2-0 after Sevilla keeper Morgan De Sanctis had failed to hold a shot from Aduriz.
Samuel Eto'o was the star in Barca's relaxed Camp Nou, scoring two late goals. The win leaves Barca with 40 points from 19 games, four points behind leaders Real.
One of Barca's best displays of the season was achieved without injury victims Lionel Messi, Deco and Ronaldinho. The handsome win will likely add fire to Barca fans' belief that Ronaldinho should be sold off in the January transfer "window." The Brazilian megastar missed the game with tendinitis in his left knee.
Eidur Gudjohnsen, making a rare start, put the hosts ahead in the 27th minute by volleying home a centre from Gianluca Zambrotta.
Barzilian striker Fernando Baiano had the perfect chance to equalize for Murcia five minutes into the second half, but was foiled by Barca keeper Victor Valdes.
Murcia were quickly punished for their innocence. Just two minutes later 17-year-old Bojan Krkic made it 2-0 with his first goal in the Camp Nou, turning in a centre from the left from Thierry Henry.
The French veteran was enjoying life on the left wing, and in the 77th minute centred for Eto'o to volley in the third.
The little Cameroon hitman made it 4-0 three minutes from time, on a centre from the right from Giovani Dos Santos.