Madrid:Arjen Robben scored a spectacular goal on Sunday to help Real Madrid beat Villarreal 1-0 in the Spanish league and keep the defending champions improving under coach Juande Ramos.
Robben cut in from the touchline and evaded three Villarreal players as he darted across the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium before sending a curling shot past Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez from the edge of the penalty area in the 32nd minute.
Madrid, which saw Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Lassana Diarra make their team debuts in the team's first encounter of 2009, has won three of its four games in all competitions since Ramos replaced the fired Bernd Schuster last month.
"Overall, I think the team is achieving good results and this is the best way to improve and gain confidence in what you are doing. Little by little, people are assimilating things," Ramos was quoted as saying by news agency Efe.
Villarreal, which remains without a win at Madrid's stadium, dropped to seventh place with 29 points after managing only one victory in its past seven league games.
In late matches, Sevilla dropped to fourth place by drawing 1-1 with last-place Osasuna, while Deportivo La Coruna won 2-1 at Getafe and rose to sixth.
After 17 games, Barcelona leads the league with 44 points, 11 more than Valencia. Madrid and Sevilla follow with 32, while Atletico Madrid and Deportivo have 30.
Also Sunday, it was: Almeria 1, Real Betis 0; Valladolid 0, Racing Santander 1; Athletic Bilbao 1, Espanyol 1; Recreativo Huelva 3, Numancia 1; and Malaga 1, Sporting Gijon 0.
On Saturday, Barcelona beat Mallorca 3-1, and Valencia defeated Atletico 3-1.
Huntelaar joined Madrid from Ajax last month as a replacement for Ruud van Nistelrooy, who will miss the rest of the season after surgery. Diarra then arrived from Portsmouth to compensate for the loss of Mahamadou Diarra, also sidelined for the season.
Huntelaar wasted a good chance to score his first Madrid goal in the 40th with Lopez diving to smother his shot from close-range.
Diarra nearly spoiled an effective debut when his misplaced pass almost allowed Villarreal to equalize in the 53rd but Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved substitute Joseba Llorente's goal-bound shot.
Huntelaar, who has yet to gain full fitness following a recent ankle injury, was replaced by Royston Drenthe in the 56th. Diarra made way for Rafael van der Vaart in the 79th.
Sevilla made little initial headway against an Osasuna team which has yet to win away this season.
Sevilla right winger Jesus Navas made the breakthrough in the 50th minute when he chested down Renato's pass, allowed the ball to bounce and then drove a low volley home from the edge of the area.
However, Osasuna substitute Walter Pandiani deprived the home team of three points when he seized on a loose ball to equalize in injury time.
Sergio Gonzalez's 81st-minute penalty brought Deportivo victory over Getafe in a rugged encounter with 11 yellow cards.
Deportivo striker Rodolfo Bodipo fired his team into a seventh-minute lead, with Getafe forward Manu Del Moral volleying an equaliser nine minutes later.
Almeria coach Hugo Sanchez, formerly in charge of Mexico, enjoyed a successful debut as he led the lowly team to its first win in six games over Betis. Miguel Angel "Corona" Garcia scored the game's only goal in the 36th.
Almeria substitute Kalu Uche was ejected for elbowing in the closing stages, while Betis substitute Sergio Garcia followed him in injury time for a hard tackle.
Nikola Zigic made a successful start to his second spell with Santander by scoring his team's winning goal at Valladolid.
The towering Serbia striker, who has joined on loan from Valencia, squeezed the ball home in the 65th and also had another goal disallowed for offside 20 minutes earlier.
Espanyol remains winless in eight games after a draw at Bilbao.
Moises Hurtado gave the visitors' hope of victory with a goal in the 38th, only for Andoni Iraola to equalize in the 82nd.
Numancia missed two penalties in its defeat at fellow struggler Recreativo Huelva in the teams' first ever meeting in the top flight.
Jose Javier Barkero and Gorka Brit saw their shots saved by Recreativo goalkeeper Asier Riesgo in the 16th and 53rd minutes, respectively.
Recreativo scored through Javi Fuego in the 18th, Javier Camunas in the 46th and Aitor Tornavaca on the hour. Brit scored Numancia's consolation goal in injury time.
Malaga defender Lolo Ortiz's 34th-minute header brought his team victory over Gijon.