MADRID -- Real Madrid used a second-half flurry of goals to rally for a 3-1 victory over Sporting Gijon and move three points clear of Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league.

Madrid was shaken into action on Saturday by David Barral's 53rd-minute goal, with Rafael Van der Vaart and Xabi Alonso scoring within two minutes of each other to put the home side ahead by the 57th minute at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Gonzalo Higuain then scored his 20th goal of the season in the 68th as Madrid moved onto 68 points. Barcelona, which plays at Zaragoza on Sunday, is on 65 points.

Sevilla followed up its midweek Champions League exit with a 2-0 defeat at mid-table Espanyol while Pedro Leon's 86th-minute goal earned Getafe a 2-2 draw at Athletic Bilbao in a match which saw both teams finish with 10 men.

Also, Valladolid ended its three-game losing streak with a 2-0 victory at Deportivo La Coruna, last-place Xerez beat Tenerife 2-1 for a second straight win.

Juan Pablo Colinas' diving save from Higuain's long shot in the 43rd minute was the last meaningful action of a first half devoid of excitement as neither team created real scoring opportunities until Barral's opener.

"The most important thing is we knew how to react and to score two goals in only a few minutes," Alonso said. "That allowed us to earn the win."

The Sporting striker was played into space on the right side of the area and, using a teammate at the far post as a decoy, finally elected to fire a powerful shot past goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Barral's goal provoked a reaction from Madrid, with Van der Vaart controlling the rebound from Cristiano Ronaldo's freekick and volleying home a 55th-minute equalizer. Sporting's players claimed the Netherlands midfielder controlled the ball with his arms.

Ronaldo had a part in the second as he headed a corner kick into the path of Alonso, who was alone at the far post to guide the ball home. Ronaldo spent the next few minutes applying an ice cube to his cheek after getting knocked in the face when nodding the ball back.

Miguel de las Cuevas tested Casillas in the 65th minute before Higuain extended Madrid's lead when the Argentina striker ran into space before sliding a left-footed shot under Colinas.

Things certainly weren't going the visitor's way as a Sporting clearance nearly bounced back off Ronaldo into the net in the 72nd. Ronaldo, carrying the load with Kaka and Karim Benzema missing through injury, then volleyed over the bar in the 85th.

Casillas was out quickly in the 77th to keep away deny Diego Castro in Sporting's last opportunity.

"After Lyon, the team looks like it has recovered and that is the work of the coach," Madrid director general Jorge Valdano said of Manuel Pellegrini, the coach. Pellegrini could be out of a job even if he ends the season with a league title because Madrid was eliminated from the Champions League at the first knockout round for the sixth straight year, despite spending more than €250 million ($363 million) on players.

"You can't expect to play well every game," Pellegrini said. "We put in three goals so we have to be happy with the game we played."

Sevilla failed to impress after getting dumped out of Europe's top-tier competition by CSKA Moscow. It trailed from the eighth minute when Pablo Osvaldo headed home with Argentina coach Diego Maradona watching from the stands.

Espanyol goalkeeper Cristian Alvarez made fingertip saves on Diego Perotti and Aldo Pedro Duscher before Osvaldo made it 2-0 on the hour mark as the Argentine striker slotted through Andres Palop's legs for his fourth goal in 10 games.

Sevilla stayed fourth with 44 points — three back of Valencia — while Espanyol improved to 31.

At El Riazor, Nauzet Aleman and Haris Medunjanin scored either side of the break for Valladolid, which is tied for 18th with Tenerife — five points better than Xerez, for its first win of 2010.

Mario Bermejo and Aythami Artiles put Xerez ahead within 15 minutes against Tenerife before it hung on for its fourth win of the season despite Juan Francisco "Nino" Martinez's goal in the 49th.

Leon's equalizer closed a feisty game at the San Mames, where Athletic midfielder Pablo Orbaiz curled home in the 14th to open the scoring but was then sent off for kicking an opponent 13 minutes later.

Manuel Del Moral scored in the 32nd to level the score before Fernando Llorente put Athletic ahead again with his 10th goal of the season through a 79th-minute penalty, which came after defender Miguel Torres was sent off.

Deportivo and Athletic are tied for sixth on 42 points.

In Sunday's games, it's: Mallorca vs. Atletico Madrid; Osasuna vs. Racing Santander; Malaga vs. Villarreal; and Valencia vs. Almeria. (AP)