Real Madrid limbered up for next weekend’s El Clasico with a comfortable 5-1 win over Deportivo La Coruna at the Santiago Bernabéu in La Liga.
The visitors took the lead against the run of play through Riki before a Cristiano Ronaldo double either side of an Angel Di Maria strike ensured the hosts went to the interval with a two goal advantage.
Deportivo made a confident start to the second-half but Pepe headed a fourth from a Xabi Alonso free-kick before Ronaldo claimed another Real Madrid hat-trick with a penalty with a little over five minutes remaining.
So cumbersome has Madrid’s start to the season been, they were only one point ahead of newly promoted Deportivo La Coruna heading into this fixture and 11 points behind pacesetters Barcelona following the Catalonians last gasp win over Sevilla on Saturday night.
However, having followed up their Champions League comeback win against Manchester City with a derby win over Rayo Vallecano on Monday, the green shoots of recovery were evident as they embarked on what could be a season defining week that includes a midweek trip to Ajax and then El Clasico next Sunday.
With those future fixtures possibly in mind, Jose Mourinho partnered Luka Modric in midfield with Sami Khedira while Gonzalo Higuain led the line as the hosts pinned back the usually expressive Deportivo midfield but without creating any clear-cut opportunities.
In fact, it was probably with their first foray forward that the visitors scored. Riki exchanged passes with Bruno Gama on the edge of the area before skipping past a pretty lethargic challenge from Raphaël Varane and slipping the ball past the advancing Iker Casillas on 16 minutes.
Provoked into action by going behind, the hosts intensified their play and began to target Manuel Pablo at right-back. And it was from that approach that Ronaldo was given the opportunity to level things up when the veteran hauled down Di Maria just inside the box with 23 minutes gone. Ronaldo confidently fired the kick into the bottom corner.
Having won the penalty, Di Maria then latched onto a Modric through ball to slip the ball under Daniel Aranzubia, who managed to get something on it to push the ball on to the post but the Argentine was first to react and headed the rebound in from close range with 38 minutes gone.
Di Maria, who had given Manuel Pablo a torrid evening, found space in that channel again to set up the third. His cross evaded its intended target Higuain but fell to Sergio Ramos at the back post. The right-back’s firmly struck effort was well saved by Aranzubia but he could only push it up into the air where Ronaldo rose highest to head his side into a two goal advantage with a minute of the half to go.
Manuel Pablo was mercifully hauled off at half-time which stemmed the tide down that side but it was the introduction of Xabi Alonso for the impressive Modric that was the catalyst for Madrid to exert further control over the match.
And the former Liverpool man linked up well with another second-half substitute Kaka to sting the palms of Aranzubia from just outside the box before delivering the free-kick for Pepe to head the hosts fourth with 66 minutes gone.
Having worn their visitors first-half tactical discipline down, there was a lot more space for the hosts to play in during the latter stages of the second period but the goal of Aranzubia was not to be breached again until the 84th minute when the referee harshly adjudged Evaldo Fabiano to have handled a Kaka centre to award another penalty.
Ronaldo stepped up to dispatch the resulting kick in off the post to grab his 16th hat-trick in Real Madrid colours.
Madrid travel to Amsterdam midweek before facing unbeaten Barcelona in El Clasico next weekend in what will prove a pivotal week for Mourinho’s men as they look to claw back a disadvantage that now stands at eight points.
Undefeated Atletico Madrid climbed above Malaga into second on 16 points when Raul Garcia's 30th-minute header was enough for a 1-0 victory at bottom side Espanyol in Sunday's late game.
Osasuna 4 (Emiliano Armenteros 55, Roland Lamah 82, David Timor Copovi 89pen, Nino 90+3) Levante 0
Real Valladolid 6 (Alberto Bueno 10, Manucho 13,86, Oscar 21,56, Antonio Rukavina 37) Rayo Vallecano 1 (Alejandro Dominguez 5)
Granada CF 2 (Guilherme Siqueira 11pen, Gabriel Torje 17) Celta Vigo 1 (Iago Aspas 20)