- La Liga
Bale bags hat-trick as Madrid thump Valladolid
Gareth Bale scored his first hat-trick as a Real Madrid player and provided an assist as Carlo Ancelotti's side brushed aside Real Valladolid 4-0 at the Bernabeu on Saturday night.
With Cristiano Ronaldo still out nursing a thigh strain, it was left to the world's most expensive player to spearhead Madrid's attack. And the former Tottenham forward proved he was more than up to the task, scoring a header and with both feet to net a perfect hat-trick.
Bale headed in the first goal of the evening shortly after the half-hour mark and three minutes later provided a fine cross for Karim Benzema to add the second.
The 24-year old gave Madrid more breathing space 20 minutes into the second half by scoring the third goal with his right foot and in stoppage time completed his treble by knocking in a cross from Marcelo with his preferred left foot.
When the final whistle went he collected the match ball and took it to the centre circle, holding it aloft to salute the appreciative public. He has now scored eight goals in the last seven matches for the nine-time European Cup winners.
The win was Madrid's fifth straight in the Primera Division and meant they closed the gap on leaders Barcelona, who visit Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, to three points.
Ancelotti's team entered the match in devastating form, having scored 14 goals in their last three matches - wins over Real Sociedad, Almeria and Galatasaray.
Ronaldo was rested again in order to make a full recovery from a thigh strain he picked up in Almeria, and was replaced by Angel Di Maria.
The Argentinian hammered the underside of the crossbar after six minutes, then Sergio Ramos headed over, before Benzema shot wide of the near post in a dominant but fruitless opening quarter of an hour from the hosts.
Valladolid goalkeeper Diego Marino was not forced to make a save until the half-hour mark but did well to parry a shot from Di Maria as Madrid broke at lightning pace.
The visitors were riding their luck and so it came as little surprise when Bale gave the capital club the lead on 33 minutes. Marcelo's pass allowed Di Maria another shot on goal, and, although Marino was again able to get a hand to the ball, it flew up at the perfect height for the Welshman to nod in and score his first header for Madrid.
Bale followed up his goal by providing Benzema with the second three minutes later. He received the ball on the right wing, then switched to his left foot to deliver a sublime cross for the striker to run into space and head past Marino.
Madrid dropped their intensity after the break, but never lost control. Benzema could have got his second of the night when Bale sent a cross in towards him in the six-yard box, but, under pressure from Marino, the Frenchman was unable to control the ball and it trickled past the near post.
The third goal arrived on 64 minutes. Bale played Marcelo in down the left and, when the full-back's cross was blocked by a Valladolid defender, he side-footed the loose ball into the bottom corner.
With the visitors well beaten and the 90 minutes almost up, Bale found time for one last goal, appearing at the near post to nudge Marcelo's cut-back into an empty net.
Download ESPN's new UK sport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.