Barcelona - Gareth Bale struck a brace to end his scoring drought and Real Madrid's winless run with a 2-0 victory over Levante on Sunday, keeping his side a point behind Spanish leader Barcelona before the title rivals meet next week.
Bale had been the focus of criticism during Madrid's three games without a victory, when the player who commanded a world record €100-million transfer a year and a half ago was ineffective in attack.
The Wales winger responded by blasting in a rebound in the 18th minute to capitalize Madrid's overwhelming start, breaking his nine-game streak without a goal.
Bale celebrated by running to the corner with his hands covering his ears before abruptly pulling them free to let in the Santiago Bernabeu's applause.
He then grazed Cristiano Ronaldo's strike to redirect it past goalkeeper Diego Marino in the 40th.
"I saw Bale more motivated, more eager and the entire team was more concentrated," Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said. "We will arrive at Camp Nou with the utmost confidence."
Madrid visits Barcelona next Sunday in a "clasico" match with the league lead on the line.
Elsewhere, Carlos Bacca scored two first-half goals to help Sevilla beat Elche 3-0 and retain control of fifth place.
Sevilla stayed ahead of Villarreal in sixth after it drew 0-0 at Almeria in a drab match where both sides finished with 10 men.
Elche was left two points above Almeria, which clung to the edge of the relegation zone.
Cordoba stayed stuck at the foot of the standings just above Levante and Granada after losing 2-0 at seventh-place Malaga.
Needing to shake things up after his team's drastic dip in form, Ancelotti benched goalkeeper Iker Casillas for former Levante goalie Keylor Navas, and replaced Toni Kroos with Lucas Silva in his starting 11. Sergio Ramos saw his first action in five weeks since injuring his left leg.
Whether the changes did the trick or its modest opponent was simply no match, Madrid completely dominated Levante. Only the woodwork prevented a more lopsided result.
Bale shook off his disappointing run of form with his 11th and 12th league goals of the season, taking his overall tally to 16 in 38 games. Ronaldo leads Madrid with 41, and Karim Benzema has 20.
Bale shone from the start when controlled the ball with his chest and used one touch to keep it afloat before firing a shot just past the post two minutes into the match.
Ronaldo stabbed a clever pass from Benzema off the post three minutes later, and Luka Modric and Bale both tested Marino before Bale converted Madrid's possession into a goal. Bale swept in a ball cleared by defender Ivan Ramis from the goalline to deny Ronaldo from scoring with an acrobatic scissor kick.
Bale almost created another goal in the 28th when his cross struck Levante midfielder Simao Mate on the head and flew off the edge of the crossbar.
Levante mustered its first shots on goal in the 37th but never seriously threatened, while Bale was positioned to use his boot to turn Ronaldo's effort into the net.
Benzema nearly had a candidate for goal of the season when he flicked the back of his boot behind him to reach a cross and strike it off the corner of the woodwork in the 64th.
"We knew it was an important game for our fans and for us to feel good heading into the game next week," Madrid defender Dani Carvajal said. "Any team would like to be where we are, so we are calm."
A moment's silence was held before kickoff for former Madrid goalkeeper Antonio Betancort, who died at the age of 78 on Sunday. Madrid's players wore black armbands in his memory.
For Sevilla, Bacca converted a penalty in the 18th after Elche's Ferran Corominas fouled Jose Antonio Reyes in the area.
The striker then netted his 16th league goal of the season — the competition's fourth-highest total — when he nodded in Jorge "Coke" Andujar's cross on 31 minutes.
Elche improved after halftime but Banega played substitute Kevin Gameiro through to cap the win with nine minutes to play.