Cristiano Ronaldo netted his fifth La Liga hat-trick of the campaign as Real Madrid brushed off Pepe’s 44th-minute dismissal to secure a crushing 6-2 victory at Sevilla and move back above Barcelona to the top of the standings on Saturday.
Jose Mourinho’s side surrendered
first place last weekend when they lost 3-1 at home to Barca in the opening ‘Clasico’ of the campaign but they go into the Christmas break with a three-point advantage over their great rivals after 16 matches.
Spanish and European champions Barca, chasing a fourth straight La Liga title, have been in action at the Club World Cup in Japan this week and meet Brazilian side Santos in the final on Sunday.
La Liga top scorer Ronaldo, whistled by his own fans and criticised by Spanish media after a poor performance in the ‘Clasico’, took his league tally this season to 20 goals, three more than Barca’s World Player of the Year Lionel Messi.
Real were cruising with a 3-0 lead at Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan stadium after the Portuguese forward struck either side of a Jose Callejon effort before centre back Pepe got a second yellow card when he caught Alvaro Negredo with a flailing arm.
Real captain Iker Casillas had earlier produced two brilliant saves to deny Manu Del Moral and Piotr Trochowski and Del Moral had squandered Sevilla’s best effort when he somehow skewed wide in front of an open goal with Real leading 1-0.
Real were forced to defend for long periods at the start of the second half but Sevilla were caught out in the 66th minute when Di Maria sped clear and stroked the ball past Javi Varas for the visitors’ fourth.
Jesus Navas pulled one back for the hosts in the 69th, Del Moral was shown a straight red five minutes later for hacking down Alvaro Arbeloa and Ronaldo completed his treble with a penalty four minutes from time after a foul on Karim Benzema. Substitute Hamit Altintop tapped in Real’s sixth three minutes later before Sevilla striker Negredo rounded Casillas to make it 6-2 in the second minute of added time.
A combative Ronaldo, who was accused after the ‘Clasico’ of failing to perform in the big games, said in an interview with Spanish television that his three goals in Seville served to "shut the mouths” of those who had criticised him. “I don’t care what people say I just do my job,” said the 26-year-old.
Athletic Bilbao were furious with the referee after he sent off midfielder Javi Martinez midway through the first half of their match at home to bottom side Real Zaragoza. However, forward Gaizka Toquero bundled in an 87th-minute winner for a 2-1 victory that lifted Marcelo Bielsa’s side to eighth.