MADRID (Reuters) – Zinedine Zidane got off to a flying start as Real Madrid coach when Gareth Bale hit a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday after a Lionel Messi treble had fired Barcelona to the top of La Liga.
Zidane, a former Real and France midfielder who took over from the sacked Rafa Benitez on Monday, was given a hero’s welcome by his adoring fans at the Bernabeu and the team responded with a dominant performance, with Karim Benzema scoring twice, against ninth-placed Deportivo.
A sparkling Messi had earlier inspired Barca to a 4-0 success at home to struggling Granada that lifted the Spanish and European champions above Atletico Madrid into top spot at the halfway stage of the campaign.
Barca, who have a game in hand over their main rivals, lead on 42 points, with Atletico a point behind in second ahead of their game at fifth-placed Celta Vigo (31 points) on Sunday.
Real have 40 points in third spot, four ahead of fourth-placed Villarreal (36) who host Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
Sevilla (29) moved up to sixth after French forward Kevin Gameiro’s double secured a 2-0 victory against seventh-placed Athletic Bilbao (28) at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
Sevilla’s stuttering local rivals Real Betis fell 1-0 at Getafe, piling pressure on under-fire coach Pepe Mel.
The Real faithful gave Zidane a rousing reception before kickoff, in marked contrast to their recent treatment of the unpopular Benitez, who was abruptly discarded after less than half a season in charge.
Zidane had in-form compatriot Benzema to thank for opening the scoring in the 15th minute when he cleverly backheeled a Sergio Ramos effort past Deportivo goalkeeper German Lux.
Bale, who scored four goals against Rayo Vallecano last month, made it 2-0 seven minutes later when he headed in a Dani Carvajal centre and the Wales winger crossed for Cristiano Ronaldo to nod against a post six minutes before halftime.
Ronaldo turned provider four minutes into the second half and Bale clipped the Portugal forward’s low cross firmly past Lux to make it 3-0.
The world’s most expensive player completed his hat-trick, his third for Real, in the 63rd minute when he powered another header into the net from a Toni Kroos corner.
Bale is the first player in La Liga to score two trebles this season and the fans gave him a huge send-off when he was replaced by James Rodriguez with around 15 minutes left.
Ronaldo squandered a host of chances before Benzema crashed home a shot in added time.
“Amazing return to the Bernabeu following the New Year,” Bale posted on his Twitter feed along with a picture of him with Zidane.
Earlier at the Nou Camp, Turkey playmaker Arda Turan, making his La Liga debut for Barca, set captain Messi up to score the opening goal from close range in the eighth minute.
The Argentina forward, who missed two months at the end of last year with a knee injury, made it 2-0 six minutes later from a clever Luis Suarez assist and a dominant Barca wasted several chances before halftime.
Messi, favourite to win a fifth FIFA Ballon d’Or award on Monday, completed his 25th La Liga treble in the 58th minute after Neymar’s shot came back off a post, ending his longest hat-trick drought in six years.
Neymar added a fourth goal seven minutes from time when Messi, who was in an offside position, let the ball run through to the Brazilian and he lifted it over Granada goalkeeper Andres Fernandez into the roof of the net.
With Granada hovering just above the relegation zone, Barca coach Luis Enrique rested first-choice midfielders Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, centre back Javier Mascherano and full back Dani Alves and said he would continue to rotate in the coming weeks.
“I make some changes now when I can and I have the chance to share out the burden,” Luis Enrique told a news conference.
“The key will be to get to the matches in a couple of months feeling fresh and that’s why I have to ration (playing time),” added the former Barca and Spain midfielder.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez/Alan Baldwin)