( dpa )- Real Madrid are still seven points clear at the top of the Spanish Liga after a late 2-0 win Sunday at bottom team Levante .
As so often this season, Real left it late, needing two goals from Ruud Van Nistelrooy to break the morale of spirited Levante .
The Dutch veteran is now second in the scorers' chart with 11 goals, just one behind Luis Fabiano of Sevilla . Last week, Real extended the contract of Van Nistelrooy until 2010, when he will be 34.
Real had come close to breaking the deadlock against Levante on several occasions, with Robinho hitting the post and defender Luis Rubiales clearing off the line.
The breakthrough came in the 76th minute. Levante's Jose Serrano clumsily handled a centre from substitute Gonzalo Higuain , and Van Nistelrooy made no mistake from the spot.
Two minutes from time, the evergreen striker made it 2-0 with a precise shot after being put through by Guti .
The late win means that Real finish the first half of the Liga programme with 47 points from 19 games, their highest total since 1990.
Even so, Bernd Schuster's team are constantly being criticized for their pragmatic, unspectacular style of play.
Barcelona, who thrashed Murcia 4-0 on Saturday, are seven points behind Real.
Atletico Madrid moved up to third - their highest placing all season - on 37 points after beating Valencia 1-0 in Sunday's late game.
The only goal came in the 28th minute, when Valencia keeper Timo Hildebrand dropped a centre from Luis Perea , allowing Sergio Aguero to push the ball into the empty net.
Valencia battled hard in the second half, and substitute Nikola Zigic twice hit the woodwork.
Espanyol , for their part, fall down to fourth on 36 points, after their first defeat in 17 games, 1-0 Sunday in Almeria .
Almeria's Nigerian striker Kalu Uche headed in the only goal just four minutes from time.
Villarreal are now fourth on 35 points after a 4-3 thriller over troubled Deportivo Coruna .
Defeat in Villarreal leaves Deportivo second from bottom and will probably mean the sack for embattled coach Miguel Angel Lotina .
On Saturday, Lotina suspended goalkeepers Gustavo Munua and Dudu Aouate all season, after Munua punched the latter after a training- ground argument.
Lotina placed his faith in 20-year-old third-choice keeper Fabricio Agosto , who delivered a shaky debut.
Sergio Gonzalez gave Deportivo an early lead from the penalty spot, only for Guiseppe Rossi to quickly level after Villarreal had been awarded their own spot kick.
Defender Pablo Amo restored Depor's lead after the interval, only for Nihat Kahveci to put Villarreal ahead with two quickfire goals.
Amo was then sent off, and Jon Dahl Tomasson made it 4-2 from the penalty spot. Andres Guardado pulled another goal back for Depor in injury time, but it came too late to save the Galicians from another defeat.
Racing Santander remain in sixth place after a handy 2-0 win at Osasuna , who crash down to third from bottom, three points above Deportivo .
Santander are now five points ahead of seventh-placed Valencia.
Sevilla are eighth after losing 2-0 Saturday in Bilbao . In ninth place now are Valladolid, 3-1 winners Sunday over Recreativo Huelva . Joseba Llorente was the star in Valladolid with a handsome hat trick.
In Sunday's other games, Zaragoza were held to a disappointing 2-2 draw against Mallorca , and Betis beat Getafe 3-2 to move out of the danger zone.