By Rik Sharma
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a hat-trick as Real Madrid thrashed Real Sociedad 5-2 in La Liga on Saturday to warm up for their Champions League clash with Paris St Germain in style.
Atletico Madrid saw off Malaga 1-0 in a tight game to provisionally close the gap on leaders Barcelona to six points.
Real’s big victory over Sociedad took them third above Valencia but they trail Barcelona by 16 points as they turn their attention to the defence of their Champions League title against PSG at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Zinedine Zidane rested Casemiro and Gareth Bale with one eye on that, but the Welsh winger’s replacement Lucas Vazquez took full advantage when he headed home Ronaldo’s cross after 49 seconds.
Karim Benzema struck the post with a low effort as he failed to break his scoring drought, the French striker is now without a league goal since November, as Real pressed to add to their advantage.
They did just that after 27 minutes when a brilliant turn by Asensio unlocked Sociedad’s defence and Marcelo crossed for Ronaldo to slam home from close range.
Toni Kroos curled home the third from outside the area and Ronaldo headed home Luka Modric’s corner in a four-minute spell before the interval.
The Portuguese forward completed his treble after Geronimo Rulli beat away substitute Bale’s long-range effort. Jon Bautista and Asier Illaramendi netted consolation goals for Real Sociedad.
“Today from the first minute the team came out to play football, to keep the ball, to press the opponent and steal it high up, and there was a big difference,” Real captain Sergio Ramos said.
“Then in front of goal we were more accurate (than in recent games). I’d be lying to you if I said that we weren’t thinking about PSG.
“Against them we play for our season, (here) we could have continued to press but we couldn’t keep up that rhythm for 90 minutes. We knew how to rest ourselves.
“The objective was to gain confidence and that is what we did today.”
In Malaga, second-placed Atletico went ahead almost instantly when Antoine Griezmann capitalised on Saul Niguez’s deflected strike falling at his feet close to goal.
Jan Oblak saved a Roberto Rosales free kick in the second half as Atletico kept their opponents at bay to earn a narrow victory in typical fashion.
Malaga, rooted to the bottom of the table, have picked up two points in their last eight games.
“We started very strongly, taking advantage of our opponent being off balance and we could score a goal which put us ahead,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone told reporters.
“It was an intense game, we were always putting the work in. We take with us a very important victory.
“The team is rejuvenated, it still has enormous hope, that’s clear to see. Everyone has played a lot of minutes, that’s why we are where we are, because the team worked well.”
Alaves continued their good form under Abelardo, winning 2-1 at fifth-place Villarreal to climb to 16th and seven points above the relegation zone while Eibar moved sixth thanks to a 1-0 win at Leganes as Ivan Ramis scored deep into stoppage-time.
(Reporting by Rik Sharma, editing by Ed Osmond)