Cristiano Ronaldo helped Real Madrid prime its attack for its highly anticipated Champions League clash with Manchester United by scoring his 21st career hat trick in a 4-1 home win over Sevilla in the Spanish league on Saturday.
After a defensive blunder let Karim Benzema open for Madrid 18 minutes in, Ronaldo unleashed an unstoppable strike to double the advantage in the 26th. The former Manchester star then went on to find the back of the net twice more after halftime.
Ronaldo did his best to make amends for his own goal that cost Madrid a loss at Granada in the last round with his 22nd, 23rd and 24th goals in the league this season. Only Barcelona's Lionel Messi, with 34, has scored more.
Madrid stayed in third place. It trails Barcelona by 13 points before the leader hosts Getafe on Sunday.
With Madrid's Spanish league title defense all but mathematically impossible, a large share of its silverware hopes this season now rest on its round-of-16 Champions League tie with United starting in the Spanish capital on Wednesday.
Also, substitute Nelson Valdez scored in stoppage time to give Valencia a 1-0 win at Celta Vigo just three days before its Champions League series with Paris Saint-Germain.
Apparently with the English champions in mind, Madrid coach Jose Mourinho left Xabi Alonso off his squad and fellow first-choice midfielders Mesut Oezil and Sami Khedira on the bench.
Instead, sparingly used Kaka got his first start since Dec. 4.
Madrid eased in front when Benzema was well positioned to take full advantage of a miscue by Sevilla's defense. Sevilla goalkeeper Antonio ''Beto'' Bastos deflected Ronaldo's low cross off teammate Fernando Navarro, and the ball fell for the France striker to nudge it over the goal-line.
Madrid kept the pressure on and Ronaldo made it 2-0 when he shimmied around Sevilla midfielder Hedwiges Maduro, put the ball on his left foot, and let loose a dipping shot from beyond the area that struck the net just inside the far upright.
Barely 30 seconds into the second half, Ronaldo made Sevilla defender Federico Fazio pay dearly for his sluggish response to reach a pass as he beat him to the ball and fired under the helpless Beto.
Ronaldo wasn't done and finished off a counterattack in the 59th that he had started from near his own area, racing forward to tap in Gonzalo Higuain's cross.
Four minutes after recording his 20th hat trick for Madrid - he scored one for Manchester - Ronaldo was substituted to a standing ovation by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd.
Higuain left Madrid with 10 men from the 66th after he picked up his second yellow card. Maduro followed suit for Sevilla in the 81st.
Defender Pepe went on for Madrid late for his first action since surgery on his right ankle in early January.
Manu del Moral got Sevilla's consolation goal in the 87th.