Atletico cuts Barcelona lead to 6 points with win at Malaga
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first hat trick of the season four days before Real Madrid meets Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League with its season on the line.
Ronaldo’s treble of goals on Saturday fueled a 5-2 victory at home over a disconcerted Real Sociedad, which barely offered resistance in a first half dominated by Madrid.
Madrid has had a disappointing season and needed a strong performance before PSG visits the Santiago Bernabeu in the last 16. The convincing win over Sociedad came after Madrid won only two of its previous six league matches and suffered a humbling exit from the Copa del Rey to modest Leganes.
With Spanish leader Barcelona still a massive 16 points ahead, Madrid’s only real chance to end the season with major silverware rests on becoming European champion for a third consecutive year.
”From the first moment, we played with intensity,” Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said. ”I would be lying if I said we weren’t thinking about Wednesday’s match in the second half because our season is at stake against PSG. Our goal is to arrive in the best shape possible for Wednesday.”
PSG also won ahead of its visit to the Spanish capital as Neymar scored to help beat Toulouse 1-0 in France.
RONALDO HONES AIM
With Ronaldo leading the way, Madrid took the lead before a minute was up and led 4-0 by halftime.
Ronaldo and Karim Benzema also hit the woodwork in a first half completely dictated by Madrid, which used its pressure to perfection.
Just 49 seconds in, Ronaldo crossed the ball to the penalty spot where Lucas Vazquez turned it in with a header.
Ronaldo fired in a low cross from Marcelo, after Marco Asensio duped two defenders with a deft spin to play Marcelo clear down the left side.
Toni Kroos curled in a long strike for the third goal, and Ronaldo headed home a corner kick by Luka Modric in the 37th.
Ronaldo got his hat trick in the 80th, off a spilled save by goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.
Jon Bautista and Asier Illarramendi scored for Sociedad after the result was beyond doubt.
Midfielder Casemiro was left on the bench ahead of the PSG match, and Gareth Bale played only as a late substitute.
Manager Zinedine Zidane said he would apply the same plan of pressing high up the pitch against PSG.
Madrid moved into third place, two points above Valencia, which plays Levante on Sunday.
ATLETICO CUTS GAP
Antoine Griezmann’s goal after only 40 seconds was all Atletico Madrid needed to beat Malaga 1-0 and close the gap with Barcelona to six points.
Griezmann scored after he was quickest to the ball after a long strike by Saul Niguez hit a defender and fell loose in the area.
Griezmann dedicated the goal to Nacho Barbera, an Atletico fan and teenage player who died from a heart attack last weekend during a game in eastern Spain. Griezmann held up a shirt with the last name of Barbera preceded by ”Cholo,” the nickname for Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
EIBAR IN EUROPE
Eibar continued its excellent run over the last three months by beating 10-man Leganes 1-0.
Eibar’s eighth victory in its last 12 matches lifted it into sixth place, which earns a Europa League berth.
Leganes was a man down from the 84th after Dimitrios Siovas’ second booking. Ivan Ramis scored in stoppage time.
Alaves extended its turnaround under coach Abelardo Fernandez by winning at fifth-place Villarreal 2-1. Alaves has won six times and lost only once in 10 rounds since Fernandez took over.