Ronaldo, Real Madrid trounce Atletico
Cristiano Ronaldo matched his own Spanish league record of 40 goals in a season by netting a hat trick that included two spectacular long-range strikes as Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid 4-1 Wednesday to restore its four-point lead over Barcelona atop the standings.
The Portuguese's swerving 30-yard free-kick that gave the visitors the lead on 25 minutes was a rare moment of quality in a disjointed first half.
Things livened up after the break when Radamel Falcao headed in from Adrian Lopez's cross, but Real responded positively and after wasting a host of opportunities they retook the lead when Ronaldo dipped another stunning effort over Thibaut Courtois 22 minutes from time.
The former Manchester United man then rounded off his hat-trick with a penalty on 82 minutes and Jose Maria Callejon added a fourth five minutes later.
Jose Mourinho had made four changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Valencia at the weekend as Angel Di Maria, Kaka, Fabio Coentrao and Sergio Ramos came back into the side.
However, those alterations did not have the immediate desired effect as both sides failed to get going in a tense opening 20 minutes.
Falcao tested Iker Casillas with a drive that the keeper easily turned away at his near post on nine minutes, while Ramos had a goal-bound header blocked four minutes later.
The visitors did though take the lead midway through the half as Ronaldo's dipping effort from fully 30 yards completely outfoxed Courtois as it bent wickedly into his bottom-left corner.
The game then entered another lull as both sides continually gave the ball away and, despite the hosts' pressure, the few glimmers of quality came from Real.
Firstly Karim Benzema's header from Di Maria's cross shaved the outside of the post before Ronaldo forced Courtois into a save at his near post.
Atletico did carve out a wonderful equaliser 10 minutes after the break, though, as a patient build-up down the left found Adrian and his cross into the middle was bulleted home by Falcao for his 29th goal of the season.
The goal forced Mourinho's men back on the front foot and Ronaldo had another shot turned away by Courtois before Coentrao's effort from close range was deflected behind by Luis Perea.
Pepe and Ronaldo also saw headers flash just over the bar, but the goal was coming and it arrived in some style as Ronaldo picked up the ball just outside the area and blasted a dipping effort over Courtois.
Atletico briefly threatened a second comeback as Falcao headed over Juanfran's cross, but all hope was extinguished eight minutes from time when Diego Godin was penalised for a foul on Gonzalo Higuain.
Ronaldo stepped up and finished low into the corner to register his 52nd goal of the campaign.
And a perfect night was rounded off for Real when substitute Callejon was found by Ronaldo inside the area and he confidently dispatched the ball past Courtois for the fourth.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.