In what was a mildly confusing round of fixtures to mark the halfway point of the season - the original opening round is to be played next week, while next week's matches, constituting round 20, will be played in May - Real Madrid kept a clear head to temporarily extend its lead at the top of La Liga to eight points, pending the result of Sunday's late match between Barcelona and Betis.
Despite falling behind to a well-drilled Mallorca at the Iberostar Estadio, José Mourinho again proved why he is considered one of the game's finest tacticians by rearranging his side to overwhelm the home side's rearguard action. By throwing Kaká and Gonzalo Higuaín into the fray for defensive players Lassana Diarra and Álvaro Arbeloa, and shifting to a back three, Real ensured that Mallorca remained pinned in its own half before finally buckling under the onslaught - although the tactic invited a couple of dangerous counter-attacks from Joaquín Caparrós' side.
Higuaín provided the equalizer with a heavily deflected shot and José Callejón added the winner after the ball landed invitingly at his feet after some penalty area pinball again involving the Argentinean. Luck, certainly, but potential champions generally enjoy a healthy slice.
After Real had taken the lead, Mourinho handed a note to Pepe. "Through experience, I know that in the final minutes with all the emotion it is difficult to communicate with the players, so I gave instructions to change our formation, as we were taking many risks, with Callejón dropping back to help."
Real's win was Valencia's loss, as the third-placed side suffered only its second defeat at Mestalla all season - and with it relinquished a psychological single-digit deficit on the leader - 0-1 to Real Sociedad. The home side peppered Real's goal early on, shaving the woodwork and drawing a string of saves from Claudio Bravo, but Valencia suffered from coach Unai Emery's decision to rest several key players ahead of Thursday's King's Cup clash with Levante, most notably goal machine Roberto Soldado.
Aritz Aduriz led the line bravely, but it is clearly no accident that Soldado is the only non-Real or Barça player in the top five of the league's scoring charts this season.
A similar fate befell Sevilla in its Sánchez Pizjuán stadium. The home side overwhelmed Espanyol in the first half but could not capitalize on a host of goalscoring opportunities in an eventual 0-0 tie, its fifth of the season in the league. As coach Marcelino García Toral noted: "It's not normal to have 14 chances and not take one."
Another profligate team, Atlético Madrid, rediscovered its scoring touch against Villarreal at the Calderón in a 3-0 win, Diego Simeone's first home match in charge of the misfiring rojiblancos. Radamel Falcao, who had not found the net in the league in over a month, bagged a brace and Diego, one of Atlético's more astute signings in recent times on a loan deal from Wolfsburg, added the third.
"We must take things slowly," said Simeone, a former Atlético player and therefore all too accustomed to the false dawns that break with alarming regularity over the Manzanares.
Other results: Zaragoza 1-1 Getafe; Granada 1-2 Rayo Vallecano; Osasuna 0-2 Racing; Athletic 3-0 Levante.