MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid assistant manager Aitor Karanka believes his side are hitting form at the right time as they swept aside Sevilla 4-1 thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick.
The Spanish champions take on Manchester United on Wednesday in the first-leg of their Champions League last-16 tie and Karanka is hoping Ronaldo can carry his recent form into the clash against his former club.
"Cristiano has had the love of the crowd here for some time. The important thing though is for the team to have a player like Cristiano in this form heading into the period we now have," he said.
Coach Jose Mourinho had taken the chance to rest a few important players with Wednesday's game in mind, but it mattered little as Karim Benzema put the hosts in front from barely a yard on 17 minutes before Ronaldo fired a fierce drive past Beto in the Sevilla goal eight minutes later.
The Portuguese captain rounded off his 20th hat-trick in a Madrid jersey with two goals in 14 minutes after half-time before a red card for Gonzalo Higuain and Manu del Moral's late consolation soured an otherwise comfortable night for Mourinho's men.
Thoughts now turn to their attempt at a 10th European crown and Karanka is hopeful that playing 18 hours ahead of United this weekend could make a difference.
"You notice a day extra rest and it has been good with the changes we made to also give a rest to some important players. We will see what players they play tomorrow," said Karanka, a reference to United's league clash with Everton on Sunday.
Sevilla boss Unai Emery was far more concerned at what he saw as his side making things easy for Madrid.
"We have made things too easy for them. In the first 25 minutes I didn't recognise my team," he said.
"We didn't have the perseverence that we've had in other games. We saw Real Madrid win easily.
"My intention was that we would have much more presence on the pitch. We need to demand more and work hard because the team hasn't been at the level we expected." The win moved Madrid back to within four points of city rivals Atletico and 13 off Barcelona, with the top two set to take on Rayo Vallecano and Getafe respectively on Sunday.
Malaga maintained their place in fourth after they came from behind to beat Levante 2-1 thanks to two goals from Isco.
Valencia, who have a Champions League date against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday, remain just two points adrift of the Andalusians as Nelson Valdez's stoppage time header handed them a 1-0 away win at Celta Vigo.
Mallorca began life under Gregorio Manzano with a 1-1 draw against Osasuna but Deportivo La Coruna lost 3-0 at home to Granada to remain bottom.