The Portuguese breaks the fifty-goal mark for the season to fire Jose Mourinho's side to victory at Vicente Calderon, and earn breathing space from Barcelona in the table
Real Madrid restored their four-point lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga courtesy of a 4-1 victory over Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday evening.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the star of the derby, netting a fantastic hat-trick to cancel out Radamel Falcao's second half header and give the league leaders a vital win, before Jose Callejon made the triumph more emphatic in the closing stages.
The hosts made a bright start to the match, and put their rivals under heavy pressure through high tempo pressing of the ball, which left the Real Madrid players slightly shaken.
The intensity in their play nearly paid off just eight minutes into the match, when Falcao broke through down the right and fizzed a deflected shot at Iker Casillas' near post, but the goalkeeper stood firm to palm to safety.
The inevitable derby controversy did not take long to transpire, as just after the 20 minute mark the visitors felt they should have been awarded a penalty. Ronaldo drove towards the Atletico defence and jinked in between the challenges of Gabi and Juanfran before going down, but the referee waved play on.
Jose Mourinho's side managed to weather the early storm by Atletico and took the lead through a spectacular Ronaldo free kick in the 25th minute. Karim Benzema went down after a foul by Luis Perea around 30 yards from goal, and the Portuguese stepped up to dip an unstoppable strike into the bottom right corner, leaving Thibaut Courtois completely helpless.
The visitors had a golden opportunity to double their lead eight minutes later when Angel Di Maria picked out an unmarked Benzema in the box with a superb cross, but the Frenchman was unable to get a true connection on the ball and the chance was squandered.
Much like the beginning of the game, the home side came out of the blocks well at the start of the half and were able to snatch an equaliser 10 minutes into the second period. Adrian found space at the byline and clipped a cross into the box for Falcao, who firmly headed the ball into the corner to make it 1-1.
Atletico looked buoyed by their equalising goal, but their ascendancy was abruptly halted in the 68th minute when Real Madrid regained the lead, once more through Ronaldo. The Portuguese took advantage of some unsure defending from the hosts to turn inside from the left and bullet another screamer over Courtois and into the top corner.
Real Madrid were gifted the chance to collect the points seven minutes from time when Diego Godin blatantly shoved Gonzalo Higuain in the back inside the box. Ronaldo stepped up to coolly slot home and bag his 52nd goal of the season, and a timely hat-trick, his seventh of the campaign.
Further misery was heaped on Atletico five minutes from time when substitute Callejon strode through the centre and slid the ball through the legs of Courtois.
Real Madrid remain top of La Liga with a four-point advantage over rivals Barcelona, while Atletico remain in seventh place on 42 points.