La Liga - Ronaldo hat-trick settles Madrid derby
Real Madrid restored their lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga to four points courtesy of a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired 4-1 win over city neighbours Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Ronaldo hit a sensational free-kick in either half before slotting home a penalty within the final 10 minutes to complete his seventh hat-trick of the campaign and take his season’s tally to 52 goals in all competitions. He then played substitute Jose Maria Callejon in to round things off.
Atletico had remained in contention until the 82nd minute. Falcao, a constant thorn in the side of the Real centre backs, headed in to make it 1-1 on 55 minutes and had numerous chances to add to his tally as the game progressed.
It was the home side that started best with the returning Falcao – playing as a loan striker in front of Adrian, Arda Turan and Diego twice shooting wide within the first 20 minutes and then coming within a whisker of making contact with a delicious Gabri free-kick that had been chipped over the Real wall and towards the left foot of the Colombian striker.
They were dealt a hammer blow though when Ronaldo, industrious on the left flank throughout, but excellently marked by Francisco Juanfran, placed the ball down 30 yards from goal after a foul on Pepe.
Lacing his 25th minute shot with dip and swerve in equal measure, the Real talisman opened the scoring with an effort that left Atletico goalkeeper Thibaud Courtois – on loan from Chelsea – with no hope of getting close.
Courtois did restore some pride as he pushed another Ronaldo effort late in the first half wide at the near post, but he was well beaten when Karim Benzema when the Frenchman headed goalwards on 33 minutes. Unfortunately for Benzema, who had moved into a loan striker role for this game with Gonzalo Higuain dropped, his effort sailed wide.
The introduction of Mesut Ozil in place of Kaka – who had looked questionable while not in possession – changed the midfield dynamic during the second half; the German alternating runs in the centre and left with Ronaldo.
While Real were able to create more chances, they looked just as nervous at the back, with Falcao continuing to exploit a lack of positional awareness from Pepe and Sergio Ramos in the Real defence. In addition to his 21st goal of the season, which game as a result of Atletico’s first attack of the half, he twice headed into the hands of Iker Casillas when attempting to capitalise on crosses from Adrian on the left.
A second Ronaldo goal from a dead ball put Real back ahead on 67 minutes, but it was not until the Portuguese forward’s expertly taken spot kick, awarded after an unnecessary challenge by Diego Godin on substitute Higuain, that a win seemed guaranteed.
Having lost heart, Atletico did nothing to stop Callejon making it four with a cool finish between the legs of Courtois before the final whistle.
While the result stemmed Real’s recent stuttering form, the nature in which it was ground out – will have given boss Jose Mourinho confidence that his side does have the stomach for the six-game run-in, which features a meeting with Barcelona at the Nou Camp in 10 days time. For Atletico, results elsewhere means that they drop two spots to ninth and have little hope of securing a Champions League spot for next season.