BARCELONA (Reuters) – Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed a record 23rd La Liga hat-trick to guide leaders Real Madrid to a 3-0 victory over Celta Vigo at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
It also helped the European champions extend their club record winning streak to 18 matches in all competitions and equal the record run of victories set by Barcelona between October 2005 and January 2006.
Elsewhere, a ferocious drive by Jose Maria Gimenez set Atletico Madrid on the way to a 2-0 triumph at Elche that lifted them into second place.
With his latest treble he overtook greats Alfredo Di Stefano of Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao’s Telmo Zarra and he has three more hat-tricks than his present day rival Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
“The statistics he is producing are madness,” team mate Sergio Ramos told reporters.
“To be honest it is a privilege to play at Real Madrid with a player like him. You have to invent words to define him. He is beating all the records and is possibly in the best form of his career.”
Ronaldo, the inspiration behind Real’s blistering form this season, struck the opening goal from the penalty spot nine minutes before the break after he was felled by Jonny Castro.
While Real constantly looked to push forward, they also found it tough against a well-organised Celta.
There was no stopping Ronaldo though as he blasted a volley from the centre of the penalty area after 65 minutes to make it 2-0 before adding a third goal from close range nine minutes from the end.
“To have a player like Cristiano is a big advantage,” coach Carlo Ancelotti told reporters.
“He is playing very well at the moment. He has a extraordinary motivation and physically he is at his best.”
Real have 36 points from 14 games, four ahead of Atletico and five in front of Barcelona who host Espanyol on Sunday.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico side are better known for their aerial threat at set-plays but they showed versatility to work a short corner to centre back Gimenez on the edge of the area and he lashed into the back of the Elche net after 15 minutes.
Mario Mandzukic finished clinically eight minutes into the second half to seal a victory that sees them leapfrog Barcelona who take on city rivals Espanyol on Sunday.
Cordoba picked up their first league win of the season, beating Athletic Bilbao 1-0 with a Nabil Ghilas strike to climb off the bottom of the table.
A rocket shot by Sergi Darder from 30 metres gave sixth-placed Malaga a 1-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna.