Madrid: Real Madrid ensured they will head into a big week full of confidence with a 5-0 thrashing of Levante ahead of their meetings with Liverpool and Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo stretched his fine scoring streak at club level to nine games as he opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Javier Hernandez headed home to double Madrid's lead before half-time.
Cristiano Ronaldo. Pic/AFP
Ronaldo powered home his 15th league goal in just seven appearances this season to make it 3-0 before sweet finishes from James Rodriguez and Isco rounded of a seventh consecutive win for the European champions. Madrid now lie just a point adrift of leaders Barcelona, but the Catalans can restore their four-point advantage with a win over Eibar later on Saturday.
Real boss Carlo Ancelotti is hoping Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos will be able to overcome their respective injury problems for the trip to Anfield on Wednesday. "I think we are arriving well into this week. We had a difficult game to prepare here, but we played very well and seriously.
We were very concentrated and it all went well," said Ancelotti. "Now we have time to, firstly recover some players, and then think about the game on Wednesday." Despite missing a host of first team players, the visitors could still have put the game to bed inside the first 15 minutes as Ronaldo was uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal.
The Portuguese captain sliced wide with just Diego Marino to beat after a wonderful through ball from Luka Modric and then pulled another shot wide from the edge of the box moments later. Ronaldo, though, wasn't to be denied on 12 minutes as Hernandez was tripped inside the area by Juanfran and the World Player of the Year slammed home the resulting penalty.
Levante reacted well to going behind and came close to an equaliser twice in a matter of seconds midway through the first-half as Marcelo diverted Pape Diop's effort inches past his own goal. And from the corner Modric had to make a fine clearance off the line to prevent Victor Camarasa punishing Madrid's slack marking.
Madrid made sure of the three points seven minutes before half-time as Rodriguez's in-swinging cross was turned home from close range by Hernandez to register his third goal for the club. Ancelotti's men stepped up a gear after the break and put the seal on another comfortable victory with three goals of pure quality.
Ronaldo doubled his tally for the afternoon as he latched onto Isco's through ball and cut inside two Levante defenders before firing past Marino. Rodriguez then produced a stunning piece of control as he took Toni Kroos's lofted pass on his chest before volleying home on his favoured left foot to make it four.
Madrid should have had a fifth 15 minutes from time as Modric somehow side-footed wide with the goal at his mercy after Marino had done well to parry his initial effort. And the only negative note from a fine afternoon for Ancelotti was an injury suffered by the Croatian midfielder as he limped off to be replaced by debutant Alvaro Medran 10 minutes from time.
There was still one moment of brilliance to come from the visitors as Isco again broke through midfield and this time went alone to drill the ball into the top corner for his first goal of the season. Meanwhile, in the week that he marked the 10th anniversary of his competitive debut for Barcelona, Lionel Messi could become the all-time top scorer in the history of La Liga.
The Argentine made his bow as a 17-year-old in a 1-0 win at city rivals Espanyol on October 16, 2004. Now he is preparing to face Eibar at the Camp Nou needing just two goals to equal Telmo Zarra's all-time Spanish top-flight record of 251, set in the 1950s.