Madrid: Real Madrid`s poor form in 2015 continued as they were beaten 1-0 by Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Saturday.
Aritz Aduriz scored the only goal of the game midway through the first-half with a thumping header from Mikel Rico`s cross.
Madrid`s third defeat in 11 league games means that Barcelona can move one point clear at the top of the table with victory over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.
Athletic came into the game on a high having qualified for the Copa del Rey final, where they will meet Barcelona for the third time in seven years, in midweek.
The hosts went in front on 26 minutes when a lovely team move ended with Aduriz powering home a wonderful header from Mikel Rico`s floated cross.
Madrid didn`t even manage a shot on target despite enjoying most of the ball in the first-half.
However, they upped the tempo signficantly at the start of the second period and only an amazing last-ditch challenge from Mikel Balenziaga denied Karim Benzema a certain goal from Cristiano Ronaldo`s low cross.
Gorka Iraizoz then had to turn a dangerous cross from Bale out of Ronaldo`s reach before diving to his right to save a low effort from Isco.
Iraizoz was quick off his line once more to deny Benzema from a narrow angle as the pressure from the visitors built.
Yet, they could have found themselves two behind 15 minutes from time when another prodigious leap and header from Aduriz came back off the outside of the post.
Seven minutes from time it was Madrid that were left cursing their luck when a stunning Bale effort from fully 45 yards came off the post with Iraizoz beaten.