Gareth the Great
By Football News
Gareth Bale starred with a hat-trick in Cristiano Ronaldo's absence as Real Madrid eased to a 4-0 win over Real Valladolid at the Bernabeu.
The hosts may have been without their talisman and top scorer, as he sat out with a thigh problem, but creating goalscoring opportunities was not an issue as they dominated from the start.
After they had squandered numerous chances, Bale was on hand soon after the half-hour mark to head into an empty net following good work by Angel di Maria and the Wales international was involved again a couple of minutes later as the hosts doubled their lead.
This time, he turned provider for Karim Benzema - the Frenchman scoring for the fifth successive league game, the first time he has managed that feat in Spain.
The world's most expensive player got his second just after the hour mark with a close-range finish before completing his hat-trick in the 89th minute with a similar strike to complete a resounding win.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti made three alterations to the side that comfortably beat Almeria 5-0 in their last league match, with Alvaro Arbeloa and Asier Illarramendi joining Ronaldo in missing out.
Valladolid's team, meanwhile, included only one change from their loss to Osasuna, as Fausto Rossi replaced German midfielder Patrick Ebert.
The game's first chance arrived after only three minutes when Sergio Ramos - linked with a move away from the club in the build-up - rose highest to meet Xabi Alonso's corner, but the Spain defender's header flew over.
Just a few minutes later, Di Maria went even closer as his audacious half-volley looped over goalkeeper Diego Marino, only to come back off the crossbar and hit the shot-stopper before going out of play.
After pressing, Madrid eventually got the breakthrough after 33 minutes when Di Maria's powerful cross-cum-shot was palmed straight to Bale, who headed into an empty net for his fifth La Liga goal.
And they doubled their lead within three minutes, with Bale integral again. This time, the winger crossed from deep and Benzema calmly nodded the ball past Marino.
The visitors were far livelier in the second half and although Madrid controlled possession, Zakarya Bergdich troubled them on the counter as he beat Ramos before shooting at Diego Lopez.
Benzema thought he had doubled his tally in the 61st minute when he tapped in Bale's squared pass, but the Frenchman's effort was ruled offside.
Ancelotti's men did have a third less than two minutes later, however.
Bale played Marcelo in down the left and when the Brazilian's low cross was partially intercepted, the Welshman was in the right place to sweep home.
And the former Tottenham man completed the scoring a minute from time as he slotted past Marino from inside the six-yard box, thanks to more good work by Marcelo, as he grabbed his first Real Madrid hat-trick.