Madrid, Apr 12: Cristiano Ronaldo matched his own Spanish league record of 40 goals in a season by netting a hat trick that included two spectacular long-range strikes as Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid 4-1 Wednesday to restore its four-point lead over Barcelona atop the standings.
Ronaldo opened the scoring in the 25th minute by bending a stunning free kick from 40 meters (yards) out of reach of Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois before Radamel Falcao equalized with his 21st goal of the season a half hour later.
But Ronaldo used another dipping shot — this time from outside the left edge of the area — in the 68th for his second, then added a late penalty to take his season tally to 52 goals in all competitions.
Jose Callejon also scored late for Madrid, which hasn't lost a city derby since 1999 and is only three goals away from matching its 22-year-old league record of 107 in a season.
Most importantly, Madrid regained its four-point lead over three-time defending champion Barcelona, with the pair set to meet in 10 days after one more league round.
Ronaldo's 16th career hat trick marked a tremendous night at the Vicente Calderon for the 27-year-old Portugal forward, who became the first player to score 40 league goals in consecutive seasons in Europe's top leagues.
Barcelona's Lionel Messi trails Ronaldo's league tally by one, but has netted 61 goals overall this season and became the first player to score 20 away goals in a Spanish league campaign.
Atletico started brightly as it looked for its first victory in 23 games against its crosstown rival, and Iker Casillas had to deny Falcao early on before Ronaldo's long-range free kick went over Atletico's defensive wall before sharply swerving down and away to leave Courtois flat-footed and looking on in astonishment.
Ronaldo kept Courtois' busy throughout, while Casillas was also being tested. The Spain keeper was beaten by Falcao's header, which left the Colombia striker third in the league scoring charts behind Ronaldo and Messi.
Knowing another draw would give Barcelona renewed hope ahead of their April 20 matchup, Madrid pressed relentlessly and eventually wore down Atletico's resistance.
Courtois denied Ronaldo again before the former world player of the year fired a wicked shot over the outstretched Courtois that dipped under the far corner for his second goal.
Diego Godin muscled substitute Gonzalo Higuain to the ground to set up the 83rd-minute penalty which Courtois couldn't keep out despite diving the right way.
Callejon added the last goal as Madrid picked up a much needed victory ahead of Saturday's game against Sporting Gijon, while Barcelona plays at Levante.
Earlier, Europa League favorites Athletic Bilbao scored twice in the final 10 minutes to draw 2-2 at 10-man Granada, Valencia beat Rayo Vallecano 4-1 to provisionally move ahead of Malaga into third, and Sporting Gijon rallied for a 3-2 victory over Levante to move off the bottom of the standings.