Real clicking into top gear ahead of PSG blockbuster

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating the second goal of his hat-trick against Real Sociedad at the Bernabeu on Saturday. The Portuguese has been criticised this season for falling short of his usual prolific standards but, having notched
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating the second goal of his hat-trick against Real Sociedad at the Bernabeu on Saturday. The Portuguese has been criticised this season for falling short of his usual prolific standards but, having notched seven LaLiga goals in Real's last four league games, he appears to be in ominous form ahead of the Champions League visit of PSG on Wednesday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID • Real Madrid's comprehensive 5-2 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday boosted confidence in the Spanish capital, with the feeling that they have set themselves up nicely for the looming Champions League last-16 showdown with Paris Saint-Germain.

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a hat-trick for the first time this season after Lucas Vazquez had opened the scoring inside 49 seconds at the Santiago Bernabeu as the visitors were blown away.

Toni Kroos also found the net, with Real 4-0 up by the interval. The victory might not do much to trouble LaLiga leaders Barcelona, but it strengthens their place in the top four and confirms that Zinedine Zidane's side are on an upward trajectory ahead of their season-defining clash with PSG.

"It makes things easier for you when you score an early goal. We showed lots of desire and we can be satisfied. It was good preparation for Wednesday," said Zidane.

It was a result that went down well with the media, as sports daily AS said on its front cover yesterday morning that Ronaldo had sent a "message to PSG".

The newspaper added: "The best Madrid of the season appears on the eve of the Champions League clash."

Real have won three and drawn one of their last four league outings, scoring 18 goals in that time.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, now has 11 LaLiga goals for the season, with seven coming in his last four league matches.

"The Artillery, Ready for PSG", was the headline on the front page of the other big Madrid sports daily, Marca, yesterday.

"He always has that mindset, he lives for that, for scoring goals," said Zidane of Ronaldo, who last week turned 33. "He could have scored one or two more, and it augurs well for Wednesday."

However, the undoubted downside for Real was the way in which they switched off defensively in the second half, with the visitors pulling goals back through Jon Bautista and Asier Illarramendi.

The European champions have kept just one clean sheet in their last nine games and, on Wednesday, they must face the formidable PSG attack of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe.

Neymar was the difference-maker with his 19th Ligue 1 goal as PSG beat Toulouse 1-0 on Saturday while Cavani is the French league's top scorer with 21 goals this term.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Real clicking into top gear ahead of PSG blockbuster'. Print Edition | Subscribe