A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick fired Real Madrid to a 4-1 derby win at Atletico Madrid today to restore their four-point cushion over Barcelona at the top of La Liga.
Ronaldo opened after 25 minutes with Falcao getting the equaliser for Atletico after 55 minutes before the Portuguese wrapped up his hat-trick to make it 40 league goals for the season, one more than Lionel Messi. Jose Maria Callejon got the other goal for La Liga leaders.
Barcelona had moved to within a point of Real on Tuesday after a 4-0 win over Getafe, with six games now left including a meeting between the top two on 21 April. "After Barça's win yesterday there was a bit of pressure, but we're happy with that and we have to look to win the rest of our games," said Ronaldo.
The game started off at a fast pace with both teams keen to attack from the off and it was Atletico, looking for their first derby win since 1999, who enjoyed the better early chances. Brazilian playmaker Diego supplied Falcao whose shot was parried away by Iker Casillas in the Real goal on nine minutes and ten minutes later the Colombian was millimetres from connecting at close range to a Gabi Fernandez free-kick.
Real were struggling to make any impact when in the 25th minute Ronaldo stepped up to hit a free-kick from around 30 yards. Thibaut Courtois in the Atletico goal did not react at all to the bending, dipping shot and could only watch as it nestled to his left in the corner of his net.
Karim Benzema then narrowly headed wide an Angel Di Maria cross on 32 minutes, but it was Real Madrid who went into the half-time break the stronger team.
Within ten minutes of the restart, however, Atletico were level when Falcao evaded Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao to powerfully head home an Adrian cross. Real immediately went back in search of the lead, a Ronaldo shot was well stopped by Courtois, Pepe headed over a corner and Ronaldo again headed high from a free-kick.
And the Portuguese international put Real back in control on 68 minutes with another swerving shot, this time from the left-hand corner of the area, that again left Courtois helpless. Falcao headed high a Juanfran cross and Adrian burst through Real Madrid's defence to be denied by a last minute block as Atletico pushed to level the game a second time.
As the home team pushed forward the gaps appeared and Gonzalo Higuain won a penalty that Ronaldo converted before Callejon added the fourth with three minutes remaining.
Valencia ease past Rayo
Earlier, Valencia temporarily moved back into third position above Malaga with a comfortable 4-1 win over Rayo Vallecano. Brazilian Jonas Gonzalez hit two, while Jordi Alba and Pablo Hernandez scored the others as Diego Costa netted a consolation for Rayo.
Malaga go to Villarreal tomorrow, knowing a win would send them back above Valencia again into third.
Levante missed the chance to also move ahead of Malaga after a 3-2 defeat to struggling Sporting Gijon in a pulsating clash. Substitute Gabriel Sangoy got the winner with six minutes remaining to give the north-coast club a priceless victory that keeps them in the fight for survival.
Valdo had put Levante ahead on 16 minutes for Oscar Trejo to level the game six minutes later, Arouna Kone headed Levante ahead again before Sporting's revival began on 74 minutes with screaming shot from Alberto Lora. The result leaves Sporting on 28 points, four behind Villarreal and safety.
Athletic Bilbao scored twice in the last ten minutes to earn a 2-2 draw away at ten-man Granada. Jaime Romero, who was sent off on 38 minutes, opened the scoring and substitute Alex Geijo doubled the lead for the home team with 16 minutes remaining. Fernando Llorente headed Bilbao back into the game before Markel Susaeta grabbed a point on 88 minutes.