La Liga: Real Madrid demolishes Granada; Barcelona edges Celta Vigo
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo erupted for his first five-goal game on Sunday, ending all talk of a dry spell as he led a 9-1 demolition of Granada for Real Madrid to stay in touch with Spanish league leader Barcelona.
Barcelona had to work much harder at Celta Vigo, but Jeremy Mathieu scored in the 73rd minute to eke out a 1-0 victory that maintained its four-point advantage with nine rounds to go.
Ronaldo followed Gareth Bale's opener by netting his first three goals in a stunning eight-minute span to decide the match before halftime at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Ballon d'Or holder added two more goals after the break — reaching 300 with Madrid — and Karim Benzema also netted a pair in one of the club's most lopsided wins. Madrid hadn't scored nine goals in a league match in 47 years. Its biggest league victory remains an 11-2 thrashing of Elche in 1960.
"Cristiano is a phenomenon," Benzema said. "He is always on the lookout for goals and ways of helping the team."
Madrid and the Spanish league said this was the first time Ronaldo had scored five goals in a match, and it came after a two-month stretch when the Portugal star had struggled to match his spectacular scoring rate in 2014. That recent dip in form had even earned him unexpected criticism as Lionel Messi took over as the league's most in-form scorer.
Usually protective of his players, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said on Saturday that Ronaldo "had lowered his productivity" as Madrid surrendered the league lead.
Ronaldo responded in emphatic fashion by taking his tally to 47 goals in his 41st game of the season in all competitions.
His performance left his coach almost as awe-struck as Granada's helpless defenders.
"What more can be said?" Ancelotti said. "(Ronaldo) has improved just as the team has. This is the first time he has scored five goals in a game and that is good news for everyone, for him, for the team and in terms of the upcoming games."
Ronaldo's outburst moved him ahead of Messi in their individual duel in the league scoring charts with 36 goals to the Barcelona forward's 32.
It was Ronaldo's 28th game with three or more goals for Madrid and increased his career tally with the club to 300 goals in 287 games. Only Alfredo Di Stefano with 308 goals in 396 games and Raul Gonzalez with 323 in 741 have more goals in Madrid's history.
Elsewhere, Valencia remained in fourth place and Villarreal in sixth after they finished 0-0 at Mestalla Stadium.
Getafe also beat Deportivo La Coruna 2-1 to edge away from the relegation zone.
Messi and the rest of Barcelona's attack was kept in check by Celta's pressure until the hosts tired and Barcelona increased its control with Xavi Hernandez coming on as a second-half substitute.
The veteran playmaker made the most of a free kick earned by Luis Suarez by picking out Mathieu at the far post, and the defender did the rest by fending off Andreu Fontas' mark to head the ball in off the crossbar. Mathieu scored a similar header for the opening goal in last round's 2-1 win over Madrid.
"It was a tough, very difficult game," Mathieu said. "Celta was better than us in the first half, but sometimes games are decided in the details."
Celta's Fabian Orellana earned a direct red card with three to play after he threw a piece of turf and hit Barcelona's Sergio Busquets.
Granada goalkeeper Oier Olazabal's long day began in the 25th minute when Bale rounded him and poked the ball home.
Five minutes later James Rodriguez marked his first game in two months after recovering from a broken right foot with a pass to set up Ronaldo.
Olazabal was partly at fault for Ronaldo's next two goals. Ronaldo got his second when he blasted in a short clearance by Olazabal in the 36th before he drove a long strike through Olazabal's hands in the 38th.
Benzema got into the act with a goal in the 52nd. Ronaldo headed in Bale's pass two minutes later, and Benzema's deflected shot found the net in the 56th.
Robert Ibanez scored for Granada in the 74th. But Diego Mainz scored an own goal with seven minutes left before Ronaldo got his final goal against Granada's demoralized defense in the 90th.
"This is the biggest blow I have ever had, either as a player or a coach," said Granada's veteran manager Abel Resino, whose team was left in danger of the drop.