Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick to lead 10-man Real Madrid to a much-needed 6-2 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday in the Spanish league.
While Madrid’s attack regained its spark after back-to-back scoreless games, its defense was once again exposed by another team that is expected to be fighting to avoid relegation this season.
Rayo’s Miguel ”Michu” Perez stunned the crowd at Santiago Bernabeu when he scored just 12 seconds into the game.
Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain had Madrid back ahead 3-1 early in the second half, but Michu struck again and Rayo was given hope after Angel Di Maria received his second booking in the 55th.
However, Madrid dominated the rest of the way to claim the Spanish capital derby.
Coach Jose Mourinho tinkered with his starting 11 after a predictable and sluggish Madrid was beaten at Levante and drew at Racing Santander this week. Higuain got his first start of the season, while Raul Albiol made his season debut in defense alongside the 18-year-old Raphael Varane.
Rayo soon exposed the inexperience of the revamped backline when Michu stole a pass from Lassana Diarra, laid off for Raul Tamudo, and then rushed forward to score after Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas blocked Tamudo’s initial strike.
Mourinho had to again reshuffle his lineup with playmaker Mesut Oezil substituting Diarra on the half-hour mark and his team responded by regaining control of the game.
Ronaldo finished off a counterattack by rifling the ball between the legs of Rayo goalkeeper Dani Gimenez in the 39th, and Higuain headed in a free kick flicked on by Sergio Ramos in first-half injury time.
Ronaldo appeared to have crushed any thoughts of a Rayo comeback when he stroked from the spot in the 51st after Javi Movilla fouled Kaka in the area, but four minutes later Madrid’s defense left Michu unmarked at the far post to tap in a corner headed on by a teammate.
The game then could have swung in the minnows’ favor when Di Maria was sent off for a handball.
Rayo, however, was unable to take advantage of the extra man and Varane’s acrobatic shot from Oezil’s corner in the 67th gave Madrid the cushion it needed to control the game the rest of the way.
Second-half substitute Karim Benzema scored in the 77th, and Ronaldo netted his league-leading seventh goal also from the penalty spot in the 83rd after Gimenez fouled the Portugal forward in the area.
Later, defending champion Barcelona hosts the inform Atletico Madrid.
Also Saturday, Frederic Kanoute’s first-half goal gave nine-man Sevilla a 1-0 win over 10-man Valencia to move into second place, one point behind leader and crosstown rival Real Betis, which plays Getafe on Monday.
Villarreal drew 1-1 at 10-man Athletic Bilbao as the Basques remained winless under new coach Marcelo Bielsa.
On Sunday, it’s: Mallorca vs. Real Sociedad, Levante vs. Espanyol, Granada vs. Osasuna, Sporting Gijon vs. Racing Santander, and Zaragoza vs. Malaga.