Barcelona, Jan 15: Leader Real Madrid survived a scare ahead of its Copa del Rey clash against Barcelona as it came from behind to win 2-1 at Mallorca in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Madrid's seventh straight away victory in league play extended its advantage over second-place Barcelona to eight points before the defending champion hosts Real Betis on Sunday.
Jose Mourinho's team almost got caught looking ahead to this season's fourth clasico as Mallorca went ahead through Tomer Hemed's 39th-minute header.
Halftime substitute Gonzalo Higuain snapped Madrid out of its lackluster effort with an equalizer in the 72nd, and forward Jose Callejon netted the winner with a goal in the 84th as Mallorca's effort waned.
"We faced a team with a great coach that was perfectly organized in defense," Mourinho said. "All 11 players worked together. Their first half was fantastic."
Mallorca coach Joaquin Caparros could not have asked much more from his side, which gave a valiant defensive effort but fell at the end to the visitors' superior talent.
Callejon entered Madrid's starting 11 in place of the injured Angel Di Maria alongside Karim Benzema and league scoring leader Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mallorca, which held Madrid to a scoreless draw in Mourinho's league debut last season, started well. The Balearic Island club kept Madrid far from its area with a well balanced defense anchored by center back Jose "Chico" Flores while showing flashes of scoring intent.
Madrid didn't create a shot on goal until the 37th minute when Benzema fired weakly into the hands of goalkeeper Dudu Aouate.
Two minutes later Mallorca pulled ahead through Hemed's team-high sixth goal of the season and his first score not from the penalty spot. The Israeli striker slid into the area and turned Gonzalo "Chori" Castro's cross by a diving Iker Casillas into the left corner with a bouncing header.
"Mallorca was responsible for what happened to us in the first half, although we could have played better if we had been more inspired," Mourinho said.
Behind in the score, Madrid played its best football of the first half.
Defender Sergio Ramos powered a header off the post in the 45th, and Lass Diarra flashed a long strike wide before the halftime whistle.
Mourinho sent on Higuain for Lass at the start of the second half with Kaka substituting defender Alvaro Arbeloa soon after to add more firepower.
The changes, however, didn't change the flow of play until Higuain scored in the 72nd when he deftly shot by Aouate after Mesut Oezil had played him through deep in Mallorca's area.
Having conceded the leveler, Mallorca began to wilt and Ronaldo came close moments later when his long strike rattled the crossbar.
Mallorca tried to resist, but Callejon blasted in a rebound from the edge of the area after Aouate had made back-to-back stops to keep out Higuain and Benzema.
"Madrid went for the game, and it was difficult to keep up the same level of play from the first half," said Caparros, whose team entered the match off a 6-1 rout of Real Sociedad in the Copa this week.
Madrid hosts Barcelona on Wednesday in the first leg of the Copa quarterfinals. The two-game tie will take the number of clasicos in the last nine months to nine. Barcelona has dominated the series, with Madrid's sole victory coming in the Copa final last season.
"(The games against Barcelona) will be a hard test, but every match is important and we have to move forward game by game and just focus on the one at hand," Callejon said.
Elsewhere, Sevilla's struggles deepened in a scoreless home draw with Espanyol, and Real Sociedad beat third-place Valencia 1-0 through a second-half goal by Antoine Griezmann.
Marcelino Garcia's Sevilla is winless in its last four league games and was ousted from the Copa del Rey by Valencia this week.
Sevilla failed to convert numerous scoring chances in the first half, and an Espanyol missing several key players improved after the break to stay unbeaten in four straight league fixtures.
Valencia squandered the opportunity to climb to within one point of Barcelona with the loss as Sociedad continued its turnaround with its seventh league game without a defeat.
Also, Rayo Vallecano downed fellow promoted side Granada 2-1 thanks to goals from Miguel "Michu" Perez and Francisco "Piti" Medina, while last-place Zaragoza's winless run grew to 11 league matches after slipping to a 1-1 draw against visiting Getafe.
Also on Sunday, it's: Atletico Madrid vs. Villarreal, Osasuna vs. Racing Santander, Athletic Bilbao vs. Levante, and Sporting Gijon vs. Malaga.