Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick as Real Madrid defeated Espanyol 6-0 in La Liga for a second time on Sunday to close the gap on Atletico Madrid to a point.
Sergio Ramos had been nursing a calf injury but returned in place of Pepe at the heart of Los Blancos’ backline as Dani Carvajal came in at Danilo’s expense. Espanyol, on the other hand, handed a debut to goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis, having arrived on loan from Watford earlier in the week, but there wasn’t such luck for fellow new boy Oscar Duarte.
There were plenty of links between the two clubs, most notably Kiko Casilla and Lucas Vazquez, both of whom joined Madrid from Espanyol last summer, while the Coaches Zinedine Zidane and Constantin Galca were rivals in Spanish football during their playing days.
Much like their 5-1 win against Sporting Gijon a fortnight ago, Madrid started like a house on fire against Espanyol, whom they defeated 6-0 in September, as Benzema opened the scoring with a simple header past Arlauskis from James’ right-wing cross.
A clumsy tackle from Enzo Roco on Ronaldo in the box then allowed the No 7 to double Los Blancos’ lead from the penalty spot, an opportunity he duly took as he blasted the ball into the bottom-left corner of the Lithuanian’s net.
Just four minutes later, James fired home Madrid’s fourth with a delightful, curling effort from the edge of the box, despite having been marginally offside in its build-up, before Ronaldo capped off an explosive first half with a run and goal akin to his days at Manchester United.
Having been released down the right, Ronaldo proceeded to cut inside, bypass his marker with a split-second step-over and smash an unstoppable finish past Arlauskis, whose debut was quickly descending into a nightmare.
Madrid began the second half in a relaxed manner, with the result seemingly wrapped up, but Espanyol could have pulled at least one goal back, had their finishing been up to scratch.
Substitute Abraham Gonzalez was guilty of two, firstly failing to beat Keylor Navas from point-blank range, although the custodian sprang off his line to smother the cross, before his limp finish from another wing delivery was sandwiched by Raphael Varane’s last-ditch block on Mamadou Sylla, the forward found totally unmarked in the box.
The openings served as a warning sign for Madrid, who subsequently upped the ante and extended their lead further, when Ronaldo headed home Jese’s cross, and the rout was confirmed by another Espanyol debutant Oscar Duarte, who turned the winger’s ball into his own net.
Real Madrid 6-0 Espanyol
Benzema 7, Ronaldo pen 12, 45, 82, James 16, O Duarte og 86
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos (Casemiro 70), Modric (Jese 63), Isco; James, Benzema (Vazquez 75) Ronaldo
Espanyol: Arlauskis; Lopez, Alvaro, Roco, R Duarte (Fuentes 46); Diop, Sanchez (Abraham 57); Jordan, Salva (O Duarte 46), Perez; Mamadou
Referee: Hernandez Hernandez