MADRID (Reuters) – Cristiano Ronaldo warmed up in style for Wednesday’s Champions League showdown with former club Manchester United by claiming a hat-trick and an assist as Real Madrid crushed Sevilla 4-1 in La Liga on Saturday.
The Portuguese forward, who became the world’s most expensive player when he joined Real from United in 2009, set up Karim Benzema to open the scoring from close range in the 18th minute at a festive Bernabeu stadium.
Ronaldo doubled the home side’s lead with a powerful left-foot strike from the edge of the area eight minutes later and added his second in the 46th minute after a blunder in the Sevilla defence.
The 28-year-old completed his treble in the 59th minute when he started and finished a swift break to chalk up the 21st hat-trick of his career and his 17th in La Liga.
He took his tally for the season to 24 league goals, 10 behind top scorer Lionel Messi of Barcelona.
Real forward Gonzalo Higuain was sent off midway through the second half for a second yellow card but it did little to sour the party atmosphere ahead of United’s visit for Wednesday’s last-16 first leg tie.
Ronaldo was substituted to a rousing ovation shortly before Higuain’s dismissal and Sevilla’s misery was compounded with just over 10 minutes left when Hedwiges Maduro picked up a second yellow.
Substitute Manu del Moral pulled a goal back for the Andalusians three minutes from time.
"We are faced with a phenomenon, I cannot recall anything like it," former Real player now club director Emilio Butragueno said in an interview with Spanish TV broadcaster Canal Plus when asked about Ronaldo’s performance.
"It seems normal for him to score three goals and we continue to enjoy his performances," he added.
Third-placed Real’s victory trimmed the deficit on Atletico Madrid in second spot to four points ahead of their city rival’s game at Rayo Vallecano on Sunday (2000 GMT).
Real have 46 points from 23 matches with Atletico on 50 and leaders Barca, who host Getafe (1100) on Sunday, on 59. Sevilla are 11th on 29 points.
In the earlier kickoff, Isco followed up his midweek debut for Spain with two goals to give Malaga a 2-1 comeback win at Levante that cemented their hold on fourth position.
The promising 20-year-old playmaker, a second-half substitute in the world champions’ 3-1 victory over Uruguay on Wednesday, equalised with a penalty in the 36th minute and fired home a low shot for the winner a minute after halftime.
Jose Javier Barkero had put Levante ahead with a penalty in the 27th minute after a Martin Demichelis foul on Obafemi Martins.
"It has been a really nice week but we can’t stop here," Isco told reporters. "We have to keep fighting because this team has a chance to qualify for the Champions League.
"We are fourth and have our fate in our own hands."
The victory lifted Malaga, who play at Porto in the last 16 of the Champions League on February 19, back above fifth-placed Valencia. Levante are ninth.
Valencia’s Nelson Valdez came off the bench to snatch a last-gasp goal in a 1-0 win at Celta Vigo that give his side a lift before they host Paris St Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Celta held Ernesto Valverde’s team at bay until the third minute of added time when Joao Pereira floated a cross to the back post and Valdez, who had only been on the pitch a few minutes, nodded powerfully past Javi Varas.
The victory came at a cost, though, as Valencia lost Aly Cissokho to injury when the full back went over awkwardly on his ankle and had to be replaced towards the end of the first half.
Valencia have 37 points, two ahead of sixth-placed Real Betis who host Real Valladolid on Monday.
"The match was heading for 0-0 and it was cruel on Celta," said Valverde. "It was a balanced first half and we hit the post at the end but in the second half things started to slowly go our way."
Real Mallorca’s new coach Gregorio Manzano, who replaced the sacked Joaquin Caparros in the week, began his third stint at the Balearic Islands club with a 1-1 home draw against fellow strugglers Osasuna.
Osasuna midfielder Lolo headed in from a corner in the 77th minute but Pedro Geromel equalised in added time to leave Mallorca second from bottom on 18 points.
Osasuna are fourth from bottom on 22 points, two ahead of Celta.
Deportivo La Coruna’s troubles mounted when they slumped to a 3-0 home defeat to Granada and remain bottom on 16 points.
Local media reported that disgruntled Depor fans had clashed with police outside the club’s Riazor stadium after the game.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)
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