Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence left Real Madrid’s attack without its top star, but Los Blancos still pulled out a 4-0 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday at Estadio Anoeta to keep pace in the ever-tightening La Liga race.
Both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona proved victorious in their earlier matches, leaving Real Madrid three points away from the overall La Liga lead.
But goals from Asier Illarramendi, Gareth Bale, Pepe, and Alvaro Morata helped Los Blancos forget the Ballon d'Or winner was out of action.
Ronaldo sat out Saturday’s match in favor of resting his injured left knee for Champions League play next week, and Illarramendi stepped in for his captain and helped take down the club that nurtured his talents from youth to first team.
The defensive midfielder, who had made only 11 previous starts this season after moving on from five years with Sociedad, put Los Blancos on top 1-0 by converting his rebound of Karim Benzema’s blocked strike into a right-footed shot from the middle of the box to the center of the net in the 45th minute. It was Illarramendi's second goal of the year.
Up until that point, neither team could capitalize on their opportunities. Madrid held a 61-39 possession advantage at the half, but only squeezed off two shots on goal, and were also limited by four offside calls against them.
Bale would later provided some extra Ronaldo relief with his 12th goal of the year in the 66th minute of play. He intercepted a poor clearance by Sociedad keeper Claudio Bravo, made two quick touches for better position and gunned a deep shot near midfield for a spectacular finish to the left side of the net.
In the 85th minute, Sergio Ramos lofted a header to Pepe, who struck a left-footed shot past Bravo for a 3-0 lead.
Madrid poured it on with Morata converting Angel Di Maria’s through ball into a fastbreak goal in the 88th.
Sociedad missed an opportunity to gain some traction on fourth-place Athletic Bilbao with Ronaldo out, but remain in contention for a Champions League spot with six games remaining.