Cristiano Ronaldo says Real are still “growing” after his record-equalling 22nd La Liga hat-trick helped the Spanish giants thrash Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Ronaldo opened the floodgates in the third minute and Benzema doubled the lead shortly before half-time. Each completed their braces with 20 minutes remaining before Ronaldo completed the rout in front of 77,987 fans at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
The win helped them leapfrog city rivals Atletico Madrid into fourth place and within four points of leaders Barcelona.
Cristiano Ronaldo Celebrates Goal vs Athletic Bilbao. Image: Getty.
“We’re still getting better. It’s the start of the season, we have room to improve and we are growing. It was a very good game, we scored five goals and didn’t concede any,” said the 29-year-old.
The Portuguese superstar has been chief-orchestrator of Real’s rebirth after two defeats in their first three games.
Their early days wobble culminated in a 2-1 home loss to Atletico in the Madrid derby, but the Carlo Ancelotti side have reeled off six wins on the troth, scoring 27 goals in the process.
The understanding between Welshman Gareth Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo was further highlighted in the mauling of struggling Athletic, who have now secured only one point in their last five league games and are 18th in the table.
Bale provided for Ronaldo’s opener within 2 minutes of kick-off, when his smart ball from the right was headed past Gorka Iraizoz by the forward. Benzema grabbed the hosts’ second from Luka Modric floated corner.
Ronaldo slot in Real’s third after a nice partnership between Benzema and Bale ended at his feet. The ex-Manchester United stalwart later squared for Benzema to tap in the fourth. Ronaldo’s rounded up scores deflecting Pepe’s short into the corner- though the ball appeared to have come off his arm.
Ronaldo added: “Benzema, Bale and I are used to working together and we connect very well. As Ancelotti already said in the press conference, we are getting better in some aspects, such as set-pieces.
“Benzema is the best striker in La Liga for me and one of the best in the world. He deserves it and we’re very happy with him. He is a team player and Benzema and Chicharito (Javier Hernandez) are doing a great job. We’re very happy with them.”
On the partnership between Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo, manager Acelotti added: “The trio up front played fantastically. Cristiano scored three, Karim two and Bale provided assists and worked hard. When they play like that, it is fundamental to the team. The midfielders played well too and worked very hard.”
Who else for the Ballon d’Or?
Ancelotti thinks Real’s inspirational forward is the surest “bet” for the 2014 Fifa Ballon d’Or after scoring his 13th goal in six league games and his 17th of the season in all competition.
The reigning Fifa Player of the Year’s hat-trick against Athletic increased his 2014 goal haul for the European champions to 41 after 37 appearances while his assist for Benzema’s brace was his 11th.
He has so far managed 3 goals plus an assists in five international caps following Portugal’s disappointing run at the 2014 Fifa World Cup.
Ronaldo’s third treble in four league games this season tied him with Real legend Alfredo Di Stefano and ex-Athletic striker Telmo Zarra in the record for most La Liga hat-tricks.
The Italian boss said: “There’s little doubt this year, I think. I don’t think there are any bets because I don’t think there’s any doubt this year.”
Ronaldo claimed his second Ballon d’Or in January, defeating four-time winner Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich midfielder Franck Ribery, after banging in 66 goals in 56 games in 2013 in all competitions for club and country.
Voting for the 2014 awards have already began. Ronaldo is nonetheless expected to be up against stiff competition from Barcelona talisman Messi, who has managed 39 goals and 17 assists in 34 appearances at club level and 10 goals plus an assist in 5 appearances for World Cup finalists Argentina.
(Messi vs Ronaldo stat provided by Stephen Greig of Tangled in Design as at 21:44 GMT)