By Iain Rogers
MADRID – Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo hit his quickest hat-trick on the way to netting his first five-goal haul in a 9-1 drubbing of Granada on Sunday but there was no change at the top of La Liga as leaders Barcelona edged a 1-0 win at Celta Vigo.
Portugal captain Ronaldo struck three times in eight minutes in the first half and added two headers after the break on a festive, sun-drenched afternoon at the Bernabeu to help fire Real to their biggest victory in almost half a century.
Ronaldo’s five goals took his tally in La Liga this season to 36, four ahead of Barca forward Lionel Messi, who was unable to get on the scoresheet in Galicia, where Jeremy Mathieu headed the winner in the 73rd minute.
Barca have 71 points with nine games left, with Real on 67. Champions Atletico Madrid are third on 62 points after they won 2-0 at bottom side Cordoba on Saturday.
Valencia missed their chance to climb back above Atletico when they were held to a 0-0 draw at home by sixth-placed Villarreal and have 61 points in fourth.
After failing to find the net in his previous nine outings, Gareth Bale netted his fifth in his last four appearances for club and country to put Real ahead in the 25th minute.
The Wales winger and world record signing pounced on a defensive error, rounded Granada goalkeeper Oier Olazabal and slotted the ball into the empty net.
Ronaldo clipped home his first of the game five minutes later, added a second after more poor defending in the 36th minute and a third in the 38th when Oier could only palm his fierce shot into the net.
Benzema made it 5-0 at a corner seven minutes into the second half, Ronaldo nodded his fourth two minutes later and Benzema grabbed his second a further two minutes after that as Real put a woeful second-bottom Granada to the sword.
Robert Ibanez pulled a goal back for the visitors in the 74th minute before Granada defender Diego Mainz put the ball into his own net seven minutes from time and Ronaldo nodded his fifth in the final minute.
Ronaldo, the World Player of the Year, has scored three or more goals 24 times in La Liga, equalling the record set this season by Messi.
The Portuguese has 31 career hat-tricks overall but Sunday’s effort was only the second time he has netted one in the first half. He has scored more goals in La Liga this term than 53 of the 98 teams in Europe’s top five leagues.
“Cristiano is a phenomenon,” Benzema told reporters. “He always chases goals and tries to do his best to help the team and he deserves everything.”
The crushing victory for second-placed Real was just the tonic they needed after a run of three defeats in four games in all competitions, including a 2-1 reverse at Barca in the ‘Clasico’ on March 22.
Barca managed to restore their four-point lead despite failing to sparkle at Celta, who missed several good chances in the first half.
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Mathieu, who scored the opener in the ‘Clasico’, grabbed the decisive goal when he leapt to nod a Xavi free kick in off the crossbar at the far post.
Celta winger Fabian Orellana was shown a needless red card for throwing a piece of turf at Sergio Busquets two minutes from time. (Reuters)