MADRID (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick as Real Madrid crushed Rayo Vallecano 6-2 on Saturday, despite playing nearly all the second half with 10 men and having leaked a goal after just 17 seconds.
The result moved Real into third position, level with Valencia on 10 points and two behind leaders Real Betis, although Barcelona can move up to second spot with a win over Atletico Madrid later Saturday.
Ronaldo’s hat-trick included two penalties with the other goals coming from Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema and Rafael Varane on his home debut.
For Rayo Vallecano, Miguel Perez ‘Michu’ Cuesta scored twice.
“We didn’t play very well in the opening 20 minutes, but I believe we did after that. It’s tough to concede a goal at the start of a game, but we showcased character,” said Real star Kaka.
“It’s difficult to play a perfect home game after playing badly in two consecutive fixtures. This result has helped us recover our confidence.”
In their first meeting in eight years, Rayo silenced a packed Santiago Bernabeu by taking the lead after just 17 seconds.
Lass Diarra gave the ball away to Michu and the Rayo midfielder was able find Raul Tamudo in space on the edge of the area. His shot was parried by goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Michu followed up to slot the ball home.
Diarra paid for his error when coach Jose Mourinho replaced him with Mesut Ozil after only 28 minutes and from then on the momentum was with the home team.
Ronaldo evened the game up on 39 minutes, bursting down the left wing and finishing powerfully with a left-footed shot that squeezed under Rayo goalkeeper Daniel Gimenez.
And on the stroke of half-time Higuain put Madrid ahead from close range after Sergio Ramos had risen to beat Gimenez to a Xabi Alonso free kick.
Real started the second half as they finished the first and when Kaka won a penalty on 50 minutes, after a trip by Jose Maria Movilla, Ronaldo converted the spot kick.
Michu pulled it back to 3-2 on 56 minutes, poking home a corner at the far post.
A minute later Angel Di Maria was red-carded for handball, but the numerical difference never looked like being a telling factor and when Varane cleverly met a corner with a delicate flick to put them 4-2 up on 66 minutes Madrid never looked back.
Substitute Benzema continued his good early season form with a goal from a right footed drive on 72 minutes and Ronaldo rounded off the rout with another penalty on 78 minutes after a trip on him by goalkeeper Gimenez.
It was a welcome win for Real who slumped to defeat at Levante last weekend before a goalless draw at Racing Santander in midweek.
Earlier Saturday, evergreen striker Frederic Kanoute scored the only goal as unbeaten Sevilla sent Valencia crashing to their first defeat, despite finishing the match with just nine men.
Sevilla are second in the table, a point behind leaders Real Betis but just ahead of Valencia who also had a player red-carded and missed a penalty.
Valencia coach Unai Emery rested a number of players ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Chelsea, including the league’s joint top scorer Roberto Soldado who started on the bench.
Jonas Goncalves shaved the post on 16 minutes for Valencia with a curling right footed shot for his team’s best chance of the opening period.
But a minute later Sevilla got the only goal when Kanoute finished powerfully after a Jesus Navas pass found him alone in the penalty area.
Sevilla had Piotr Trochowski sent-off on 57 minutes after his second yellow card, giving Valencia the impetus to get back into the game.
And on 68 minutes they had their best chance when Ever Banega hit the post from the penalty spot after Julien Escude had pulled down Aritz Aduriz.
Escude then received his marching orders to leave the home team with only nine players.
But three minutes later, Aduriz was also red-carded after an off the ball incident with Sevilla centre-half Emil Spahic, making it 10 against nine for the final 20 minutes.
Igor Gabilondo for Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal’s Nilmar Honorato da Silva got the goals in San Mames in a 1-1 draw in Saturday’s other early kick-off.