MADRID (Reuters) – Atletico Madrid maintained a two-point lead in La Liga with a 3-0 victory at Las Palmas and Barcelona and Real Madrid stayed hard on their heels with thumping wins over Athletic Bilbao and Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
A rare goal from Atletico fullback Filipe Luis and a second-half Antoine Griezmann double lifted Diego Simeone’s side to 47 points from 20 matches.
Lionel Messi, who presented the fifth FIFA Ballon d’Or he won this week to fans before kickoff at the Nou Camp, struck from the spot to set Barca on their way to a 6-0 success against 10-man Bilbao, with La Liga top scorer Luis Suarez netting a hat-trick.
Bilbao conceded the early penalty when goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz felled Suarez and was shown a straight red card and Barca put the Basque club to the sword.
The Spanish and European champions, who have a game in hand over their main rivals, are two points behind Atletico in second, with Real a further two points adrift in third.
Real continued their serene progress under new coach Zinedine Zidane when Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema scored twice apiece in a 5-1 destruction of Gijon.
Gareth Bale, who was forced off with a suspected calf strain just before halftime at the Bernabeu, had opened the scoring.
Atletico initially struggled for control at Las Palmas before Filipe Luis drilled a shot into the corner.
Spain playmaker Koke sent Griezmann clear to make it 2-0 and the pair combined again to complete the scoring a minute from time.
Bilbao never looked like troubling Barca once they went a man down and Neymar made it 2-0 when he lifted the ball over substitute keeper Iago Herrerin.
Suarez struck two minutes into the second half after exchanging passes with Neymar and the Brazil forward set up Ivan Rakitic to make it 4-0 in the 62nd minute.
Suarez netted his second seven minutes later from Arda’s pass and completed his treble to move clear at the top of the scoring chart on 18 goals, two more than Ronaldo and Benzema.
“The sending off changed things completely and we were able to take advantage during the rest of the game,” Suarez, clutching a match ball, told Spanish television.
“I’m going to put this in the museum once I get it signed by my team mates,” added the Uruguay striker.
Real tore into promoted Gijon in Zidane’s second game in charge and were 4-0 ahead inside the first 20 minutes.
After Bale had headed in a corner, Ronaldo smashed in a second. Bale then crossed for Benzema to score with an acrobatic volley, Ronaldo turned in a Dani Carvajal centre and Benzema got his second to make it 5-0 four minutes before the break.
It was another morale-boosting performance following the sacking of the unpopular Rafa Benitez, under whom they failed to impress against any of their main rivals.
The victory may have come at a cost, however, as Benzema was also forced off after hurting his foot in a collision with team mate James Rodriguez.
Zidane said Bale would need a scan to determine the extent of the injury, while Benzema had suffered a knock that was probably less serious.
“It’s been a fantastic start because it’s not easy to score five goals twice in a row,” Zidane told a news conference. “We’re only at the beginning though and what we want is to win at least one trophy at the end of the season.”
Gary Neville’s disappointing start as Valencia coach continued when the ambitious Singapore-owned club drew 2-2 at home to lowly Rayo Vallecano and slipped to 11th, prompting more rumblings of discontent from the fans.
(Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Justin Palmer)