Liga - Ronaldo hat-trick sends Real 10 clear
A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick helped Real Madrid extend their lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga to 10 points with a 4-2 victory over 10-man Levante at the Bernabeu.
Gustavo Cabral headed fourth-placed Levante into a surprise early lead, but Ronaldo levelled from the penalty spot after Vicente Iborra had picked up his second yellow card for a handball in the area.
Asier Del Horno recovered from injury and was in the Levante starting line-up, but Juanfran only made the bench after a recent foot injury. Kone played as a lone front-man, supported by Oscar Serrano, Nabil El Zhar and Valdo.
Real had been boosted by Barcelona’s 3-2 defeat away to Osasuna on Saturday, but Levante shocked the Bernabeu when they took the lead after just five minutes.
Sergio Ramos caught Nabil El Zhar in the face with his arm. The Spain international was then only able to flick on Javier Farinos’s resulting free-kick and defender Cabral was on hand to head home at the far post.
Real reacted well and penned Levante into their own half. The equaliser looked a matter of time as Gonzalo Higuain struck the near post with a close-range shot before Gustavo Munua spectacularly turned away a dipping free-kick from Ronaldo.
Levante were looking dangerous on the counterattack and Iker Casillas had to be on his mettle to block a near post shot from Iborra.
Midfielder Iborra went into the book for a late challenge on Benzema in the 36th minute and he received his marching orders when he conceded the penalty from which Real scored their equaliser just before the break.
Iborra handled a high ball in the area and the referee showed no hesitation in sending the Levante midfielder off and pointing to the spot. The decision was perhaps rough justice on the visitors but Ronaldo showed no remorse as he planted his kick beyond goalkeeper Munua.
Ronaldo quickly added his second after the break. Higuain showed good skill to beat Sergio Ballesteros on the right and produced a teasing cross that Ronaldo headed past Munua.
The Portuguese star’s third goal was one of his best in a Real Madrid shirt. Ronaldo unleashed a shot from outside the area that rose up over Munua and then dipped into the top right corner. It was Real’s 4000th Liga goal at the Bernabeu and Ronaldo’s sixth hat-trick of the season.
Kone gave Levante hope six minutes later, the on-loan Sevilla forward rising between Ramos and Pepe to head in a left-wing cross from Serrano.
But any hopes of an unlikely comeback were extinguished when Ronaldo found Benzema on the left of the area in the 66th minute. The Frenchman cut in and curled a splendid shot beyond the outstretched arms of Munua.
Mesut Ozil hit the post with a low shot before being substituted and spirited Levante will be relieved to have escaped the Bernabeu without a more comprehensive defeat after being forced to play over half of the match with 10 men.
With the gap at the top now 10 points, Jose Mourinho will believe his side have taken a major step towards their first title since 2008.