Zinedine Zidane’s confidence in Cristiano Ronaldo proved to be fully justified as the Portugal star netted a hat-trick in Real Madrid’s 4-1 defeat of Alaves.
The Madrid coach backed Ronaldo as the “clear” front-runner for the Ballon d’Or this week despite a run of one goal in his last five league games, and he led the way in Vitoria as the pacesetters came from behind to win comfortably.
Deyverson, who also scored against Barcelona in September, exploited dreadful Madrid defending to give Alaves the early breakthrough, but he was culpable for the equaliser, conceding a penalty which Ronaldo thrashed home.
Ronaldo, rested for Wednesday’s 7-1 Copa del Rey win at Cultural Leonesa, was decisive again just after the half-hour mark as he found the net from long range thanks to a kind deflection.
Although Fernando Pacheco saved a second Ronaldo penalty, the visitors ramped up the pressure in the latter stages – substitute Alvaro Morata scoring a cool third.
And Ronaldo then bounced back from his spot-kick miss with an emphatic finish, as Madrid took full advantage of Sevilla’s earlier 1-1 slip-up at Sporting Gijon to go three points clear at the top for at least a couple of hours.
Madrid looked ponderous during the early exchanges and their flat start was punished seven minutes in.
Atletico Madrid-owned Theo Hernandez burst up the left flank before drilling a low cross into the danger area and Deyverson was there to apply the finish after a mix-up between Keylor Navas and Raphael Varane.
The Brazilian saw his good work undone 10 minutes later, though, handling Gareth Bale’s driven free-kick to concede a penalty and Ronaldo smashed the spot-kick past Pacheco.
Madrid defender Pepe was forced off with an innocuous-looking injury after 24 minutes, but the visitors were soon celebrating again – Ronaldo playing a one-two with Karim Benzema before seeing his 25-yard drive deflect off Zouhair Feddal and past Pacheco.
Alaves began the second period at a similar intensity to the first and almost levelled within two minutes of the restart, as Victor Camarasa cleverly beat Varane on the edge of the area before being thwarted by the approaching Navas.
Madrid remained the dominant force, but Alaves continued to be a threat on the break and Deyverson went close to getting his second shortly after, testing Navas with a low drive from 20 yards.
Ronaldo spurned a glorious chance for a third 11 minutes from time, seeing his second penalty of the day palmed away by Pacheco after he had been hauled down by Daniel Torres.
But Morata, a 67th-minute replacement for the disappointing Benzema, spared his blushes with a clever lob six minutes from the end.
And Ronaldo made amends himself shortly after, smashing home from close range after good play by Marcelo to complete a resounding win. It was Ronaldo’s 43rd career hat-trick, his 31st in 243 Liga appearances, and his 350th career league goal.