Madrid's Bale, Benzema hurt in rout, Barca & Atletico roll
ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 18, 2016 03:44 PM
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, celebrates with teammates Karim Benzema, left, and Gareth Bale after scoring against Sporting Gijon during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Sporting Gijon at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. Ronaldo and Benzema scored twice each and Bale scored once in Real Madrid's 5-1 victory. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid's second straight five-goal performance under new coach Zinedine Zidane came at the high price of losing Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema to injury on Sunday, while Luis Suarez scored a hat trick to lead Barcelona's 6-0 demolition of 10-man Athletic Bilbao.
As the two powerhouses got goals from their trios of star strikers, Atletico Madrid quietly churned out a 3-0 win at Las Palmas to retain its provisional lead of the Spanish league.
Madrid crushed Sporting Gijon 5-1 after Bale opened the scoring, followed by braces from Cristiano Ronaldo and Benzema.
Lionel Messi presented his record fifth Ballon d'Or award to his fans before kickoff at Camp Nou. He then converted a penalty to put Barcelona on its way before being substituted at halftime because of what coach Luis Enrique called "slight pain" without giving further details.
Suarez took his league-leading tally to 18 goals while Neymar and Ivan Rakitic also scored against a Bilbao side that had goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz sent off in the fourth minute.
Atletico stayed two points clear of Barcelona, which has a game to play. Madrid remained four points back in third.
The injuries to Bale and Benzema put a damper on another dominant showing by Zidane's team, which followed its 5-0 win against Deportivo La Coruna on his debut with a first-half blitz that starkly contrasted with Madrid's scoreless draw at Sporting under predecessor Rafa Benitez to start the season.
"It's a fantastic start. It's not easy to score five goals," said Zidane. "I know what we are capable of and what we are going to do in the future. This is only the beginning. I expect a lot more from this team."
Ronaldo said that the team has immediately clicked with Zidane in a way it never did under Benitez.
"The players are more motivated with Zizou," Ronaldo said. "(He) has given the team a boost. Seriously, there are some coaches that you have more empathy with than others. I never had a bad opinion of Rafa, (but) he sees football in a different way than Zizou. (Zidane) is relaxed, he is friendly with the players."
Injury concerns aside, Madrid's talented squad made a strong statement that the club may not skip a beat when FIFA's one-year transfer ban for breaching rules regarding youth players takes effect after the close of the winter market.
Bale picked up from his three-goal outing in Zidane's first match in charge with another strong showing, helping to earn a corner kick that he then headed home from Toni Kroos' cross.
Benzema set up Ronaldo to double the lead, and Bale crossed for Benzema to use an acrobatic kick to score Madrid's third. Madrid hadn't scored three goals in the opening 12 minutes of a league match since 1956.
With Sporting reeling, Ronaldo tapped in Dani Carvajal's cross to make it 4-0 by the 18th minute. Benzema got his brace from Francisco "Isco" Alarcon's pass in the 41st.
Madrid lost Bale a minute before halftime with a right-calf injury, and Benzema went down early in the second half, shortly after Sporting's Isma Lopez scored, when teammate James Rodriguez kicked his right leg.
Later Sunday, Barcelona was up a goal and a man after seven minutes when Iraizoz saw a straight red card for bringing down Suarez, allowing Messi to fire the spot kick past substitute Iago Herrerin.
Bilbao was at Barcelona's mercy the rest of the way.
Suarez set up Neymar on the break in the 31st before he worked a sublime one-two combination with the Brazil striker to score in the 47th.
Neymar dribbled through the defense to provide an assist for Rakitic before Suarez steered in Arda Turan's pass in the 68th and then headed home Sergio Busquets's cross with eight minutes to play.
In the Canary Islands, Diego Simeone's Atletico applied the same formula that has the 2014 champions at the front of the title hunt.
Goalkeeper Jan Oblak kept a fourth straight clean sheet - he has only conceded three goals in eight away games this season - while Antoine Griezmann scored a second-half double from two assists by Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion after Filipe Luis put Atletico ahead.
"I understand the anxiety one can have about the expectations surrounding the team," Simeone said. "But we won't change our mentality of focusing on the next game."
Elsewhere, Valencia coach Gary Neville remained winless in six league games since taking over after a 2-2 draw with Rayo Vallecano, while Getafe beat Espanyol 3-1.