Valencia staked their claim for third place in La Liga with a stylish 5-0 win in Sunday's head-to-head clash with local rivals Villarreal.
Neither side tried to play down the importance of the match with both teams comfortably clear of the chasing pack, with the victory pushing Valencia six points ahead of Villarreal.
Valencia had more time to prepare as Villarreal were in European action on Thursday night and it showed as they were far livelier and put plenty of pressure on the Villarreal players.
If the visitors were in good spirits after their 5-1 win over Twente then they were brought back down to earth quickly as Roberto Soldado gave Valencia an early lead.
Although they had further chances it was not until the second half that the floodgates opened against a tired looking Villarreal.
Ever Banega scored in between two goals from Juan Mata and Soldado also got his second of the night.
"We have found it difficult to be consistent and play well for 90 minutes but we have managed to do it in this match. It was an excellent performance," said Valencia coach Unai Emery.
"We also acknowledge the work and the great season Villarreal are having to the extent they have made us adapt our game to them. The only thing we still need to do is be more effective in defence and improve the way we defend with five back."
"The scoreline is painful for us because we knew that we could lose but not by such a margin," he said.
After an inconsistent campaign Atletico are still in the fight for a place in the Europa League and have hit form at the right time. Back-to-back wins mean that Atletico are level with sixth-placed Athletic Bilbao who lost to Real Madrid 3-0 and a point behind Sevilla who drew 2-2 with Mallorca.
Atletico were in charge against Sociedad from the start with a deft back-heel from Diego Costa setting up Felipe Luis to put them ahead and then shortly before half time Mario Suarez added another after good work from Jose Antonio Reyes.
Sociedad, now just five points above the relegation zone, are going through their worst run of the season and conceded a further goal from Sergio Aguero.
"We were hoping for a weekend like this as it has gone very well for us," said Quique Sanchez Flores.
"We needed to close the gap but we have some important games ahead including the next one against Espanyol. We have done well in the last seven games, except for the (Real) Madrid result."
Espanyol's poor form continued with a disappointing 0-0 draw away to Hercules. They have struggled badly since Christmas and had lost eight of the last ten games going into the match.
Hercules' Royston Drenthe carried the greatest threat and went closest to scoring with a header which came back off the crossbar.
After a slow start Miguel Corona scored on the breakaway for Almeria but the goal brought Barça belatedly to life.
Messi equalised with a penalty then Thiago Alcantara headed home a corner and in stoppage time Messi struck again to give a convincing win in the end.
Source: AFP Global Edition