Barcelona, Spain, Dec 18: Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick Saturday as Real Madrid bounced back in commanding fashion from last week's loss to Barcelona with a 6-2 rout at Sevilla.
Madrid's sixth straight away win in Spanish league play moved it three points clear of second-place Barcelona, which is set to play the final of the Club World Cup in Japan on Sunday.
Sevilla entered the game with the league's second-best defense, but Madrid's fast-paced attack had little trouble in picking it apart.
Ronaldo, who received a large part of the blame for the 3-1 loss to Barcelona, responded by taking his league-leading goal tally to 20, three more than Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
“This is to shut the mouths of my critics,” Ronaldo said. “I am used to it, so it doesn't matter. I am focused on my team and I don't care what people say about me. ... Those who criticize me don't understand football.”
Ronaldo scored twice and forward Jose Callejon added another in a first half that featured a pair of superb saves by Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Madrid played the second half with 10 men after Pepe received his second booking, but Di Maria extended the lead before Jesus Navas netted Sevilla's first goal.
Ronaldo capped his treble with a penalty and substitute Hamit Altintop scored late before striker Alvaro Negredo grabbed a second for Sevilla.
Earlier, it was: Mallorca 1, Getafe 2; Sporting Gijon 1, Espanyol 2; and Athletic Bilbao 2, Zaragoza 1.
While Madrid has not beaten Barcelona in their last seven league meetings, Jose Mourinhos's team again showed that it is far better than the rest of Spain's theoretical challengers.
“I expected to win and to take sole possession of the league lead,” Mourinho said. “The normal thing is to rebound and win, and we did that against a tough opponent.”
Mourinho rewarded Callejon for his recent good form with a spot in the starting 11 instead of Germany playmaker Mesut Oezil, who has also taken his share of blame for his team's most recent “clasico” debacle.
Sevilla tried to take the game to Madrid in an up-and-down start, but Ronaldo rifled in a perfectly weighted pass by Angel Di Maria to put Madrid ahead in the 10th minute.
Behind in the score, Sevilla surged forward and only Casillas' goalkeeping denied the hosts a quick equalizer.
Casillas made a spectacular diving save in the 12th to block Manu del Moral's close-range shot off the post before his defenders cleared, and five minutes later the Madrid captain stretched to parry Piotr Trochowksi's low try.
“Casillas made two incredible saves, but the entire team played very well,” Mourinho said.
Madrid took control of the contest in the 37th when Callejon raced in to redirect a lobbed pass from Di Maria past goalkeeper Javi Varas. It was the Argentina winger's league-best 11th assist of the season.
Ronaldo made it 3-0 in the 41st with a long blast that he sent screaming into the left corner of the net from 25 meters (yards) out.
Madrid played the second half with 10 men after Pepe received his second booking for swiping Negredo's face with his arm in a challenge for the ball right before halftime.
But Di Maria still capped his strong showing in the 66th as he scored on the break before Navas shot inside the far post for Sevilla's goal three minutes later.
Sevilla played a man down from the 74th after Del Moral was shown a red card for a hard tackle on Alvaro Arbeloa.
Ronaldo got his treble after Federico Fazio fouled Karim Benzema in the area.
Altintop went on late for Madrid and tapped in Xabi Alonso's pass in the 89th before Negredo grabbed Sevilla's second in stoppage time.
On Sunday, it's: Atletico Madrid vs. Real Betis, Granada vs. Levante, Osasuna vs. Villarreal, Racing Santander vs. Real Sociedad, and Valencia vs. Malaga.
The next round will be played in January following the Christmas break.