Karim Benzema scored on his comeback from injury as Real Madrid sealed a 4-0 win over Sevilla to close the gap to the top two.
Allegations over his involvement in a money-laundering investigation and being left out of the France squad have made this a tough week for the striker, but he marked his return to full fitness with a fine goal to set Madrid on their way.
Sevilla had failed to win away once in La Liga this season before Sunday and, when Kevin Gameiro missed a penalty after several fine saves from goalkeeper Sergio Rico had kept his side in the match, the chance of halting that run looked unlikely.
Cristiano Ronaldo missed a spot-kick of his own in the second half but recovered to steer in from close range just after the hour mark, before Gareth Bale finished a move involving both of his attacking partners just two minutes later and Jese Rodriguez added a late fourth.
The defeat is a blow to Sevilla’s Champions League hopes, but Madrid – who cruised through the latter stages and could have scored more – are back to within a point of second-placed Atletico Madrid, and 10 of leaders Barcelona.
Benoit Tremoulinas almost caught out Keylor Navas inside the first three minutes, as his dipping cross came off the top of the crossbar and had to be cleared by Marcelo.
But Benzema promptly marked his return with a moment for the Santiago Bernabeu to savour. Bale bent a right-footed cross into his path and the France international blasted a half-volley past Rico from 12 yards to give Madrid the lead.
Rico denied Bale a second as he stretched a fingertip to turn the Wales forward’s low shot onto the post, before Bale turned in Cristiano Ronaldo’s header only to be unjustly flagged for offside.
Ronaldo twice had Rico at full stretch after cutting in from the left but Raphael Varane handed Sevilla a way back into the match when he grabbed hold of Adil Rami’s shorts in the penalty area, only for Navas to save low to keep out Gameiro’s spot-kick.
Madrid pushed for a second after the break and Ronaldo was given the chance to do just that after Luka Modric’s charge into the area was halted by Jose Antonio Reyes, but the Portuguese blazed the resulting penalty over the bar.
Toni Kroos rasped a half-volley just wide and Bale nodded a corner onto the crossbar when unmarked six yards from goal, before Gameiro swept home Tremoulinas’ pass only to see the offside flag rule out his equaliser.
Just two minutes later, Madrid finally found a way through. Danilo placed a low cross towards the far post, where Ronaldo was on hand to bundle the ball home and give his side some breathing space.
And Bale made it 3-0 almost immediately afterwards, as Benzema chipped Ronaldo’s pass over Rico to allow the ex-Tottenham man a simple finish which took him to 43 goals in La Liga – the highest tally reached by a British player.
Sevilla pushed forward for a consolation and came close through Gameiro’s fierce drive which fizzed over the bar, but Jese capped the victory as the ball broke back into his path after he tried to tee up Ronaldo, allowing him to sweep low past Rico from six yards.
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