(AFP) - In the week that saw him complete a year in charge of Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane showed his midas touch as, after leaving out Cristiano Ronaldo
, Karim Benzema and Isco for an impressive 3-0 rout of Sevilla in midweek, all three returned and netted inside half an hour against lowly Granada.
Isco scored again as Real hit four before half-time in a 5-0 thrashing to stretch their unbeaten run in all competitions to 39, matching Barca's best set last season.
Two trips to Sevilla in the next week continue a daunting period of fixture congestion for Los Blancos over the next two months, but Zidane is proving he has the squad to cope and, more importantly, knows how to use it.
Sevilla won't go away
Sevilla responded in style to their 3-0 collapse away to Madrid by inflicting Real Sociedad's first home defeat since August with a hugely impressive 4-0 win in San Sebastian.
Wissam Ben Yedder was the star of the show with a hat-trick and an assist in a performance that suggested Jorge Sampaoli's men are more likely to force themselves into the title race than face a fight with Atletico Madrid, Sociedad and Villarreal for a place in the top four.
Turning around a 3-0 deficit against Madrid in the Cup on Thursday looks beyond Sevilla, but Real's visit to the Sanchez Pizjuan next weekend could be the most important La Liga game of the season to date with victory for Sevilla putting them just a point behind the European champions.
Barca failing big tests
Barca slip to third as despite another rescue mission from Lionel Messi with a sensational last minute free-kick, they could only draw 1-1 at Villarreal and fall five points behind Madrid having, who also have a game in hand.
The Catalans have now dropped points in seven of 17 La Liga games this season, but it is their record in particular against the other top sides that will trouble coach Luis Enrique.
A Messi-inspired 2-1 win at Sevilla in November is Barca's only win in five games against the rest of the top six this season.
End of the road for Abelardo?
Another weekend goes by where only the ineptitude of Sporting Gijon, Granada and Osasuna has kept Valencia out of the relegation zone.
Valencia's spiralling crisis continued as sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch followed coach Cesare Prandelli in resigning on Saturday ahead of their relegation six-pointer at Osasuna on Monday night.
There have been a total of five managerial changes for the bottom four already this season, but Sporting boss Abelardo has clung on thanks to his lucrative contract at a club not flushed with cash.
However, even he now looks set for the chop after an insipid display in a 1-0 defeat at Las Palmas leaves them with still just one league win since September.
Griezmann back among the goals
For the new year, Atletico went old school. Diego Simeone's men ground out a 2-0 win at Eibar thanks to a largely defensive display capped by a set-piece routine headed home by Saul Niguez and a fine counter-attack finished off by Antoine Griezmann.
Griezmann's goal ended an 821-minute La Liga drought for the Frenchman stretching back to early October.
"We have returned to what Atletico is," said Griezmann afterwards.
It is almost certainly too late to pose a title challenge, but a back on form Griezmann and defensively solid Atletico will pose a serious threat in the Copa del Rey and Champions League.