MADRID: Real Madrid restored their four-point advantage over champions Barcelona – whom they visit on April 21 – after Cristiano Ronaldo claimed his seventh hat-trick of the league season in a 4-1 win away to neighbours Atletico.
Real had seen their lead over their arch rivals trimmed to one point after Sunday’s 0-0 draw at home to Valencia and Barca’s 4-0 win at home to Getafe on Tuesday and needed a win to keep their bid for a first title in four years on track.
Ronaldo, who has scored 52 goals in all competitions this season, is one ahead in the Liga rankings of Barcelona’s World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who scored the Spanish champions’ second goal on Tuesday.
If Ronaldo, like Messi, reaches 60 goals for the season it will be the first time that the total has been reached by two players in the same season since 1927-28 when Dixie Dean scored 63 league and cup goals for Everton in England and Jimmy McGrory scored 62 in Scotland for Celtic.
Ronaldo was the difference between the sides at the Calderon and the Portuguese international smashed in a free kick to open the scoring in the 25th minute before Radamel Falcao nodded an equaliser 10 minutes into the second half. Atletico, who have not beaten Real in almost 13 years, pressed forward in search of an unlikely winner but Ronaldo made it 2-1 in the 68th minute when he drifted in from the left and arrowed a long-range shot over goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Atletico defender Diego Godin felled Gonzalo Higuain in the penalty area around 10 minutes from time and Ronaldo stroked the spot kick past Courtois for his 40th league goal of the campaign, equalling the La Liga record he set last season.
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