MADRID: Gareth Bale scored four times as Real Madrid came from behind to beat nine-man Rayo Vallecano 10-2 in a wild game at the Santiago Bernabeu to close the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to two points.
Atletico missed the chance to move clear at the top on their own as they had captain Gabi sent-off in a 1-0 defeat at Malaga.
Barca have a game in hand as they weren’t in La Liga action this weekend after sealing the Club World Cup with a 3-0 win over River Plate in Japan earlier in the day.
It is the first time in 55 years that a team has scored 10 goals in a La Liga game, however, the Madrid fans still voiced their disapproval towards under fire coach Rafael Benitez after Real found themselves 2-1 down inside 12 minutes.
Red cards inside half an hour for Tito and Raul Baena opened the floodgates, though, as a double from Cristiano Ronaldo and a hat-trick for Karim Benzema added to Bale’s most prolific day in three years as a Madrid player.
“We conceded the goals early, but then the team reacted,” said Benitez.
“I am not going to judge the decisions of the referee, but from the sending-off the team did what it had to do, try to play well and score goals.”
Madrid president Florentino Perez had restated his support for Benitez in midweek after rumours suggested he was one defeat away from the sack after losing 1-0 at Villarreal last weekend.
Real had won their previous 14 meetings against their humble rivals from across Madrid and looked well set for another routine afternoon when Bale teed up Danilo for the opener after just three minutes.
Yet, Madrid’s defensive deficiencies in recent weeks were exposed again when Antonio Amaya rose highest to head home Roberto Trashorras’s corner.
And the defending was even worse from Danilo as he allowed Jozabed to head home from close range two minutes later.
With the Madrid fans on the verge of full revolt, the hosts were handed a huge break when Tito needlessly lunged in on Toni Kroos and was rightly shown a straight red card.
Danilo then made amends for his poor defending with a sensational cross for Bale to head home the fourth goal of the game after just 25 minutes.
More controversy was to follow when Baena was penalized for a pull on Sergio Ramos and was harshly shown his second yellow card to leave Rayo with nine men.
Ronaldo made no mistake from the spot and Bale then exploited a huge gape in the Rayo defense to gallop clear and slot home his second.
The one-way traffic continued after the break as James Rodriguez teed up Benzema and then Ronaldo to register his 23rd goal of the season with a thumping header.
Ronaldo then turned provider as his low cross was swept home by Bale for just his second ever hat-trick for Madrid.
And it got even better for the Welshman when he took advantage of a kind ricochet to tap home his eighth goal of the season 20 minutes from time.
Bale was then replaced to a standing ovation, but Madrid’s hunger for goals continued as Benzema struck twice in the final 10 minutes to complete his hat-trick and a historic rout.
A red card proved to be Atletico’s downfall too as their nine-game winning run came to an end after Gabi carelessly picked up two bookings in five minutes just after half-time.
Malaga striker Charles had been denied by two fine saves from Atletico ‘keeper Jan Oblak in the first-half, but just when the hosts were becoming desperate the Brazilian finally found a way through four minutes from time when his deflected effort sneaked in at the near post.
Elsewhere, Celta Vigo maintained their one-point lead over Villarreal in the battle for fourth place as both sides won 2-0 away at Granada and Real Sociedad respectively.