Is there a team that Cristiano Ronaldo enjoys playing more than Espanyol?
Just a few months ago, the Portuguese snapped his goal drought in emphatic fashion tallying a hat-trick in the first 20 minutes and later going on to score two more. Expectations were much of the same considering Espanyol visited the Santiago Bernabéu this time around.
Zinedine Zidane's lineup was far from surprising. The typical three man front line with Cristiano stationed out on the left created problems for the Catalan side from the get-go. A bit of tiki-taka football in Espanyol's final third within the first few minutes hinted that it would be a long day for the back line.
Cristiano linked up well with Benzema and Isco, who looked brilliant as always. Cristiano's first attempt on goal came just minutes into the game. He received a pass at the top of the 18-yard box, turned on his defender effortlessly and rifled a shot at Giedruis Arlauskis. While the shot was straight at the Lithuanian keeper, making for a fairly easy save, the venomous strike provided the Real Madrid faithful with confidence that Cristiano was on top-form once again.
Minutes later Cristiano found himself in approximately the same position on the edge of the box. Karim Benzema more or less flicked the ball towards the Portuguese who let it roll past him. The dummy baffled Hernan Perez who dove in, catching the attacker's leg rather than the ball making the referee's job easy.
The whistle blew.
Cristiano put the ball on the spot, stepped back and slotted his shot into the lower left-hand corner. As expected, he celebrated like it was his first. He ran to the end-line, leaped and blew up in front of the Madridistas.
The penalty was simple and straight forward, unlike his finish 30 minutes later.
James possessed the ball in the midfield and attempted to spray it wide to the left. Instead, his lofted pass ricocheted off an Espanyol defender and landed at the feet of Cristiano who sprinted down the right. After realizing that he might get beat for pace, Cristiano executed one of his famous, self-named Ronaldo chops, creating space between himself and Roco. Cutting back across the 18-yard box, he struck a sizzling left-footed shot into the top left corner. Arlauskis stood no chance.
Later in the second half, Jesé crossed a marquee ball just in front of Espanyol's 6-yard box that had the Portuguese's name written all over it. Cristiano secured his hat-trick, burying a headed effort past the Espanyol keeper.
Cristiano checked all the boxes: left foot, right foot and a header.
While Ronaldo's top-class performance was ultimately against lowly Espanyol, it should provide the superstar with even more confidence going forward. Earlier in the season when Cristiano netted five against Espanyol, he tallied a hat-trick in Real Madrid's ensuing Champions League match. Cristiano boasted another multi-goal display this time around and if history repeats itself, Zidane will sleep like a baby in three weeks time. Three aways goals in the first leg against Roma would all but lock up progression into the Champions League quarterfinals.