Cristiano Ronaldo smashed a hat-trick as 10-man Real Madrid crushed Sevilla 6-2 on Saturday to storm back to the top of La Liga and a three-point lead over bitter rivals Barcelona.
Jose Callejon, Angel Di Maria and Haltin Altintop were also on target in a match where Jose Mourinho’s team were reduced to 10 men just before half-time when defender Pepe was red-carded.
Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo grabbed consolations for Sevilla, while Madrid were also indebted to goalkeeper Iker Casillas for a wonder save when the advantage was only one goal.
Real are now guaranteed to end this year on top, with Barcelona to play Brazilian side Santos yesterday in Japan in the final of the Club World Cup.
“Sevilla played well, but then so did we. Casillas made two important saves at an important time and then our reaction was good,” Real boss Jose Mourinho said. “I did not expect the result, we expected to win, but not by so many, but we are now out on our own at the top.”
The game began at a fast pace, with Sevilla looking the more dangerous until Karim Benzema fired in a left-footed warning that Javi Varas parried away in the Sevilla goal on nine minutes.
A minute later, Madrid were in front when Di Maria threaded a perfect ball through the Sevilla defense for Ronaldo to hit home first time. Sevilla came back almost immediately and Casillas produced a candidate for save-of-the-season on 13 minutes to prevent Manu del Moral from converting from close range.
Four minutes later, Casillas was at full stretch again to finger-tip wide a Piotr Trochowski shot.
With quick wing play from Jesus Navas on the right and Del Moral on the left, the home team were creating plenty of chances and looked the more likely to score. However, that was until the superb Di Maria chipped a delightful ball over the Sevilla defense that Callejon reached just ahead of Varas to clip home on 37 minutes. Four minutes later a Ronaldo thunderbolt from 30 yards meant the victory was all but guaranteed as Madrid led 3-0 at half-time.
There was still time before the interval for Pepe to leave Madrid a man down when a stray arm connected with Alvaro Negredo, giving him his second yellow.
Casillas was alert again on 56 minutes to block a shot from Ivan Rakitic and Gary Medel hit a spectacular volley just wide four minutes later.
Di Maria capped a match winning performance with his team’s fourth on 66 minutes when put clear by Benzema.
Sevilla never gave up, providing much in an entertaining match and Navas got one back on 69 minutes, but they too were left with 10 men when Manu del Moral was shown a straight red for a foul on Alvaro Arbeloa five minutes later.
Benzema was tripped by Federico Fazio with five minutes remaining and Ronaldo converted the penalty for his 20th league goal of the season before substitute Altintop rounded off the rout with a minute remaining. Negredo pulled one back for Sevilla in the 90th minute.
Espanyol kept up their push for a European place with a 2-1 victory over Sporting Gijon, which kept their opponents in the relegation zone.
Sergio Garcia finished impressively for a deserved winner, with seven minutes remaining after a searching pass from fullback Didac Vil.
Thievy Bifouma had opened the scoring for Espanyol on two minutes with an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area.