Cristiano Ronaldo made it an incredible three hat-tricks in his last four league matches to help fire Real Madrid to an emphatic 5-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao. The tone at the Bernabeu was set after just two minutes when Ronaldo headed in Gareth Bale’s cross to begin the continuation of his incredible scoring streak. From that point on a sixth successive win for Madrid in all competitions felt inevitable against an Athletic side that remain submerged in the relegation zone after just one league win this season.
Shortly before halftime Karim Benzema rose highest to head in Luka Modric’s corner to make the second half nothing more than a formality. From another Bale assists, Ronaldo added his second before unselfishly teeing up Benzema. As if to emphasize that everything he touches turns to goal right now, Ronaldo made it 15 goals on the season, all in his last eight appearances, when the ball struck his elbow and bounced into the net.
Having lost two of their first three matches, Madrid have barely been troubled domestically and this latest win moves them above champions and neighbors Atletico Madrid into fourth place, four points behind Barcelona, who they meet on Oct. 25. Having been made to work far harder than many expected to secure a narrow win over Bulgarian side Ludogorets in midweek Champions League action, this was a perfect way for Ancelotti’s men to go into the international break.
Most encouragingly, after fitness concerns at the start of the season, Ronaldo continues to look in the best form of his already brilliant career. He wasted no time adding to recent his tally on Saturday. After good work from Dani Carvajal, Bale took over and swung in a cross with his weaker right foot of the same quality he so often produces with his left to allow Ronaldo to head down and past keeper Gorka Iraizoz at the back post.
Athletic were showing just why they had gone six matches without a win coming into the contest and had scored just two goals in that run. Ernesto Valverde’s men posed precious little threat to a top-heavy Madrid side, featuring a forward-thinking midfield three of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez. The only time Iker Casillas was called into anything approaching serious action in the opening half was to tip over a well-struck volley by Iker Munian.
Meanwhile, it looked a matter of time before Real Madrid added to their advantage. Benzema was inches away from getting onto Bale’s ball across the face of goal, while Ronaldo was denied by Iraizoz after some tantalizing quick passing involving Bale and Rodriguez. From that resulting corner, though, the second goal arrived with four minutes of the first half remaining. Modric’s delivery was precise and Benzema rose well to head down into the ground and up into the top corner of the net.
The second half was even more of a one-sided affair. It took 10 minutes this time for Ronaldo to find the target, with some fine linkup play again involved. This time it was Benzema and Bale who combined to set the Welshman away down the right and center the ball for Ronaldo to supply a simple finish. While Bale was doing some fine assisting work, he had a misfiring day in front of goal. On several occasions his finishing was found wanting and when he finally did find the net he was correctly ruled out for offside.
If Bale had found his shooting boots then one can only imagine what the score would have been. As it was, Madrid continued the punishment in the 69th minute when a superb pass from Modric pierced through the Athletic defense and set Ronaldo away. Perhaps in the past Ronaldo would have gone for the goal himself with a hat-trick beckoning, instead he squared for the better-placed Benzema to side-foot into a wide open net.
Despite Madrid’s dominance, there was still a sign of the errant set-piece defending that has been a regular feature of the European champion’s season and that almost cost them a victory against Ludogorets. An Athletic corner was only just bundled away from goal at the last second by Casillas, before the Madrid stopper reacted well to block and then hold onto a follow-up effort from Guillermo.
At the other end Iraizoz was continuing to impress with a string of one-handed saves that kept the scoreline from becoming a humiliation for the visitors. He could do nothing, though, to prevent a fifth goal for Madrid and a third for Ronaldo with two minutes remaining. Pepe was looking to put the ball back into the danger zone following a corner but instead it struck the elbow of Ronaldo and caught out Iraizoz, whose over-worked evening ended with an appeal in vain for handball.