A review of the weekend's action in the Spanish Primera Division, with Barcelona winning at Real Valladolid.
Real Madrid's fading title hopes were handed what could have been a knock-out blow on Saturday night after the stuttering champions slumped to a 3-2 defeat at Malaga to fall 16 points behind Primera Division leaders Barcelona.
Substitute Roque Santa Cruz struck twice in three second-half minutes to help fourth-placed Malaga heap the pressure on Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, who created a surprise by omitting captain Iker Casillas from his starting line-up.
Madrid dominated the first half but were unable to turn their possession into goals and were made to pay as Isco put Malaga ahead in the 48th minute.
An own goal from Sergio Sanchez drew Madrid level midway through the second half but Santa Cruz, who had been on the pitch less than 10 minutes, stunned the visitors by putting Malaga 3-1 ahead with a double strike in the 73rd and 76th minutes.
Benzema pulled another goal back with eight minutes remaining but Madrid could not find an equaliser as they slumped to a fourth league defeat of the season - twice as many as they suffered in winning the title last season.
Earlier, Barcelona gave stand-in coach Jordi Roura a winning start as goals from Xavi, Lionel Messi and Cristian Tello heled them win 3-1 at Real Valladolid.
Roura is deputising for Tito Vilanova, who was discharged from hospital on Saturday after undergoing an operation on his parotid gland on Thursday, and saw his side take a 1-0 interval lead when Xavi tapped in Jordi Alba's cross.
The Spain midfielder then set up Messi for his 91st and last goal of an extraordinary 2012 and, after Javi Guerra pulled one back, Tello rounded off the win in injury time.
Apono and Helder Postiga were on target as Real Zaragoza ran out impressive 2-0 winners on the road at Athletic Bilbao.
Zaragoza had won just one of their last five coming in to Saturday night's game but looked in fine form as they eased to the three points courtesy of Apono's penalty and Postiga's effort shortly before the interval.
Granada secured only their second win in seven league games with a deserved 2-1 victory over Osasuna at the Reyno de Navarra.
Nino had fired the hosts into an early lead with a looping header from Raoul Loe's flick-on, but Granada dominated thereafter and should have been level well before Diego Mainz did find the back of the net from Dani Benitez's free-kick four minutes before half-time.
And Benitez himself then put his side ahead two minutes into the second period with a wonderful left-footed strike from outside the area that left Andres Fernandez helpless.
Mallorca got their first win in 15 games in all competitions as they came from behind to beat Champions League-chasing Real Betis 2-1 at the Benito Villamarin.
Benat's free-kick had given the hosts an early lead, but Victor brought the Islanders level with a fine header on the half-hour mark.
And the comeback was completed just two minutes into the second half when Mario's challenge on Victor was deemed to have taken place inside the area and Javi Marquez comfortably slotted home the resultant penalty.
On Friday night, Ernesto Valverde got his first home win since taking charge of Valencia as Los Che saw off Getafe 4-2 in a hugely-entertaining encounter at the Mestalla.
The hosts got off to the perfect start and were 2-0 up inside seven minutes as Roberto Soldado headed in from Sofiane Feghouli's cross before the Valencia captain turned provider to set up Jonas to curl past Miguel Angel Moya.
Getafe soon had a foothold in the game, though, as Alvaro Vasquez turned in Xavi Torres' pass from a narrow angle, but Valencia restored their two-goal advantage on the half-hour as Ricardo Costa powered home a header from Tino Costa's corner.
Alexis reduced the deficit once more on the hour mark with another fine header, this time from Abdelaziz Barrada's corner, but as Getafe pushed for an equaliser they only succeeded in leaving space at the back and Valencia finally sealed the three points when Nelson Valdez swept home Jonathan Viera's cutback in stoppage time.
Atletico Madrid continued their 100 per cent record in all competitions at the Vicente Calderon this season with a hard fought 1-0 win over Celta Vigo.
Adrian Lopez grabbed the only goal 13 minutes from time with a brilliant half-volley from outside the area that flew past Javi Varas into the top corner.
Joao Miranda was then sent off for a second bookable offence 10 minutes later, but Diego Simeone's men saw out the final few moments without any scares to move seven points clear of Real Madrid in second place.
Atleti have now won 15 straight games at the Calderon, but they were made to struggle after failing to take advantage of a bright opening.