MADRID (AFP) –
Cristiano Ronaldo feels that Liga leaders Real Madrid are now closing in on the title as they prepare to face struggling Sporting Gijon at the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend.
The Portuguese star scored his seventh hat-trick of the season as Real beat neighbours Atletico 4-1 on Wednesday to restore their four-point lead at the top of the table.
The pressure had been growing on Jose Mourinho’s team as their lead – which sat at 10 points in mid-March – was whittled down to one in the wake of Barcelona’s 4-0 victory over Getafe on Tuesday.
But, after some tense moments with the score tied at 1-1 at the Vicente Calderon, Ronaldo made the difference before substitute Jose Callejon got the other goal.
“Still there is a little way to go but the league is near now. We were anxious going into the game as we knew that Barca had won but now we are relaxed,” said Ronaldo, who has already equalled his record-breaking tally of 40 league goals, set last season.
That figure leaves him one ahead of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, although the Argentine has the most in all competitions with 61.
“Losing is not a word in my vocabulary. We knew it would be a difficult game against Atletico and they played very well so I am happy with the result. I am not looking for personal records but titles for Real Madrid and I have to thank my teammates because without them I would not have scored,” added Ronaldo.
April is a crunch month for Madrid and will go a long way to deciding their destiny in the title race.
Having taken four points from two league games against Valencia and Atletico, they still have a tough Champions League semi-final tie with Bayern Munich to come either side of their trip to the Camp Nou to face Barca in El Clasico.
Barcelona are pushing Real all the way having won their last 10 league games in succession but, as they prepare to travel to the season’s surprise package Levante, midfielder Sergio Busquets points out that they are still reliant on the leaders dropping more points.
“It will be difficult to win the league but not impossible and they still have to come here to play us. They have the advantage which we have had in the past and we have been champions but all we can do is go game by game,” he said.
“Looking at the picture overall then we do have a good chance but we now have a difficult game against Levante. Madrid at the moment are first, they have a great team and deserve to be where they are but we are trying to make up the distance.”
Meanwhile, Valencia have responded to recent a dip in form with a well-earned draw at the Bernabeu and a comprehensive win over Rayo Vallecano but they now have a tough trip on Sunday to an Espanyol side who are still in the hunt for a place in Europe.
Malaga are Valencia’s biggest rivals in the battle for third place, and Manuel Pellegrini’s side are in action at home to Real Sociedad.
Athletic Bilbao have just one win in seven games and are in need of a positive result as they prepare to entertain Mallorca at San Mames, while sixth-placed Osasuna travel to Betis.
Atletico have a second Madrid derby in five days as they face a Rayo Vallecano side who are one of the most unpredictable in La Liga.
Elsewhere on Sunday, there are key games at the foot of the table as Racing Santander go to Villarreal while Zaragoza entertain Granada.
Michel takes his Sevilla side to former club Getafe in the Monday night game which will be vital for the European ambitions of both teams.
Real Madrid v Sporting Gijon (1800 GMT), Levante v Barcelona (2000 GMT)
Espanyol v Valencia (1000 GMT), Betis v Osasuna (1400 GMT), Malaga v Real Sociedad (1400 GMT), Villarreal v Racing Santander (1400 GMT), Zaragoza v Granada (1400 GMT), Athletic Bilbao v Mallorca (1600 GMT), Rayo Vallecano v Atletico Madrid (1930 GMT)
Getafe v Sevilla (1900 GMT)