Captain marvel Raul scored a hat-trick as Real Madrid defeated Sevilla 4-2 on Sunday to cut Barcelona’s advantage at the top to four points ahead of next Saturday’s “El Clasico” at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Barcelona had dropped two points in a 2-2 draw at Valencia on Saturday and Real capitalized as Raul gave coach Juande Ramos a win on his first return to Sevilla.
“It was crucial that we won this match,” Ramos said. “We have been winning lots of games but not getting any closer and sometimes it seems like hard work. Now we have closed to within four points and have home advantage against Barcelona next Saturday.”
Brazilian Renato put Sevilla in front on 17 minutes, but Raul leveled just before half-time and then scored twice inside three minutes (63, 66) to complete his hat-trick and take his season’s tally to 18.
“It was pivotal to score just before the break,” Ramos said. “We took more risks in the second half because nothing less than a victory was good enough.”
Diego Capel gave Sevilla a glimmer of hope with an 80th minute strike, but Marcelo scored for Real in the dying seconds to make it 4-2.
Sevilla had beaten Real 4-3 at the Bernabeu in Bernd Schuster’s final match in charge and since then Ramos has guided the champions back into the title race with 17 victories in 19 games. Back in mid-December Barcelona had a 12-point buffer after beating Real 2-0, but that has now been sliced to just four points as the two sides prepare to face off again.
For Sevilla it was a fourth straight league loss and Valencia are just a point behind in fourth.
Real had to do without the suspended Pepe who will not play again this season after picking up a 10-game ban for his violent conduct against Getafe.
In the dug-out, Ramos was jeered by Sevilla fans who used to worship him for winning two UEFA Cups and a King’s Cup, but later branded him a mercenary when he resigned to join Tottenham in October 2007.
Earlier on Sunday, Villarreal moved a point behind fourth-placed Valencia in the Champions League race with a 2-1 win at Getafe.
Atletico Madrid stayed within three points of Villarreal with a 3-1 home win over strugglers Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
In Sunday’s other games it was:
• Recreativo Huelva 2 (Sisi 48, Camunas 81), Real Mallorca 4 (Jurado 10, Arango 15, Castro 76, Keita 90)
• Valladolid 0, Osasuna 0
• Athletic Bilbao 2 (Llorente 21, Lopez 41-pen), Racing Santander 1 (Pinillos 57-pen)
• Espanyol 2 (Luis Garcia 4, Roman 83), Real Betis 0