Giuseppe Rossi struck a minute before half-time to boost Villarreal’s hopes of Champions League qualification with a 1-0 win at Espanyol.
Villarreal are only six points behind Real Madrid in third place after Jose Mourinho’s side suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at Osasuna earlier in the evening.
Italian striker Rossi took his tally for the season to 12 with a contender for goal of the season, controlling a long ball into the area at pace and blazing a shot into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Espanyol probably deserved an equaliser for a solid performance in the second period, but Villarreal were a constant menace on the break with home keeper Irdiss Kameni forced to make a couple of fine stops.
He shoved Marco Ruben’s shot onto his bar midway through the first period before depriving Rossi of a second goal when he flicked his effort against the bar and over on 65 minutes.