Madrid: Karim Benzema scored a stunning hat-trick in a seven-minute salvo as Real Madrid thumped Real Valladolid 6-0 on Sunday in La Liga.
Champions Real Madrid, second, sit 12 points behind leaders Barcelona after the Catalans beat Elche on Saturday, with 11 games remaining each.
The race for a top four spot intensified as Villarreal, sixth, beat fourth-place Real Sociedad 2-0, and Atletico Madrid earned a 1-0 win over Betis in fifth.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid warmed up for their Copa del Rey semi-final clash on Wednesday with arch-rivals Barcelona in style by dismantling Valladolid, 16th and a point above the drop zone.
Rodrygo Goes opened the scoring early on, before Benzema’s hat-trick, including a spectacular acrobatic effort, with Marco Asensio netting the fifth in the second half and Lucas Vazquez adding another late on.
“Karim is a spectacular player, a world-class star, he’s been here 14 years and year after year he scores goals,” Vazquez told DAZN.
“Year after year he’s been Madrid’s number nine, there’s not much left to say about him, I’m very happy for him and enjoying (playing with) him in each game.”
Starting in a central attacking midfield role, Rodrygo slotted home the opener after 22 minutes after being teed up by Asensio to open the floodgates.
Vinicius Junior set up two goals for strike partner Benzema, who took them with aplomb.
The French forward completed his hat-trick after 36 minutes when he pulled off an impressive overhead effort from inside the six-yard box for his 14th goal of the season in La Liga.
The 35-year old became the division’s second top goalscorer, behind Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski on 17.
Ancelotti’s attacking line-up paid dividends and the coach said he was delighted with his forwards.
“The four up front delivered, in all aspects,” said Ancelotti.
“Everyone combined very well, alternating movements, with mobility, attacking from deep, that’s what we were looking for.”
The coach said he might start Rodrygo against Barcelona at Camp Nou.
“Rodrygo is not ruled out against Barca, because he’s very dangerous at the moment, there’s a possibility he could play,” added Ancelotti.
“It’s hard to make the line up for Wednesday, it’s not a normal cup tie, we have a disadvantage (after the first leg) and we have to do something.
“Having Rodrygo, whatever situation it’s in, I will be calmer.”
Madrid slowed down in the second half, with Belgian winger Eden Hazard making his first league appearance since September as a substitute for Benzema.
After Rodrygo set up Asensio to blast home from inside the area, Hazard teed up Lucas Vazquez to round off the rout in stoppage time.
Vinicius was also given a rest ahead of the Clasico clash midweek, as Madrid sharpened their teeth.
Having failed to trouble Barcelona in the 1-0 first leg defeat in March, Los Blancos look far more dangerous now.
Valladolid face a tough fight against relegation.
“Any set-back melts us like a sugar cube,” said their coach Pacheta.
“We can’t not commit fouls, we can’t let them run at us, we made too many mistakes.
“We have to be a lot stronger in attack, in defence, in transition, in everything.”
Diego Simeone’s Atletico, third, and in fine form since the World Cup, snatched a late win over Betis at the Metropolitano thanks to Angel Correa’s goal.
Defender Jose Gimenez hit the bar with a header early in the second half and Koke had a goal ruled out for offside, while Juanmi came close for Betis, who suffered their first league defeat in seven games.
Atletico took the lead with four minutes to go when Correa broke the deadlock after twice getting a lucky break on the edge of the box, before skipping into space and finishing well.
The Rojiblancos are five points behind Real Madrid and six points ahead of Real Sociedad.
Villarreal took the lead late on against Real Sociedad when Samu Chukwueze was felled in the area and Dani Parejo slotted home the penalty.
Substitute Nicholas Jackson netted the second but was later sent off for two yellow cards.
Celta Vigo were held 2-2 by Almeria, 18th.