MADRID (Reuters) – Real Madrid closed to within two points of La Liga leaders Barcelona after demolishing nine-man Rayo Vallecano 10-2 on Sunday while Atletico Madrid missed a chance to seize top spot outright by losing 1-0 at Malaga.
Gareth Bale landed the first four-goal haul of his career as Real bounced back in style from last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Villarreal, with Karim Benzema netting a hat-trick and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice.
Atletico had captain Gabi sent off 11 minutes into the second half at the Rosaleda and Malaga made the breakthrough three minutes from time when a Charles volley deflected into the net off Diego Godin.
Barca and Atletico are on 35 points, with the Spanish and European champions having played one game fewer. Real are third on 33.
Barca beat River Plate 3-0 to win the Club World Cup earlier on Sunday and will play their game in hand at Sporting Gijon in mid-February.
Celta Vigo and Villarreal are on Real’s heels after they each won 2-0, at Granada and Real Sociedad respectively.
Celta are two points behind Real Madrid in fourth with Villarreal a further point adrift in fifth.
Athletic Bilbao climbed above Sevilla and Valencia, who both drew on Saturday, into seventh, two points behind sixth-placed Deportivo La Coruna, thanks to a 2-0 home triumph over bottom club Levante.
Real Madrid did not initially have it all their own way at the Bernabeu and their demanding fans are clearly yet to be convinced coach Rafa Benitez is the right man for the job.
Benitez and his players were again whistled after they fell 2-1 behind early on. Danilo put the home side in front before Amaya and Jozabed replied for Rayo.
However, once Tito was sent off for a wild tackle on Toni Kroos in the 14th minute and Jose Raul Baena received his marching orders 14 minutes later, Real quickly restored their lead and went in 4-2 ahead at halftime.
Bale levelled with a header and Ronaldo struck from the penalty spot after Baena had earned a second yellow card and conceded a penalty for a foul on Sergio Ramos.
Winger Bale then sped clear and drove the ball low into the corner four minutes before the break.
Rayo had little chance against waves of Real attacks and Benzema made it 5-2 three minutes into the second half before Ronaldo headed in a James Rodriguez cross in the 53rd.
The Portugal forward set up Bale for his hat-trick in the 61st and the Wales international added a 70th-minute tap-in to double his league goal tally for the season to eight.
Benzema made it 9-2 in the 80th minute and Real hit double figures when the France international notched his third in the final minute.
It is the third time Real have scored 10 goals in a La Liga game and the first since they beat Elche 11-2 in 1960.
“We came out strongly but after we scored we relaxed,” home goalkeeper Keylor Navas told Spanish television. “Later we regained control and managed to get a good result.
“It’s normal that the fans are unhappy as we are not in first place which is where we are obliged to be and where we want to be.”
The game between Atletico and Malaga was an ill-tempered affair short on quality and genuine chances.
Gabi was dismissed when he handled the ball, picking up a second yellow card, and 13th-placed Malaga left it late before snatching victory.
“We had a few chances to score even with 10 men but then we were unlucky with their goal,” said Atletico midfielder Koke.
“We have to keep working and fighting, there is still a long way to go in the season but it was a shame not to be able to win here.”
(Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Toby Davis)