Football

Zidane: Ballon d’Or will be Ron's

So says Real coach Zidane of Ronaldo, and many will agree

ATLETICO MADRID 0

REAL MADRID 3

(Cristiano Ronaldo 23, 71-pen, 77)

If anyone wasn't convinced that Cristiano Ronaldo should win his fourth Ballon d'Or in January, this match would have put to rest all the doubts.

The Portuguese returned to haunt Atletico just five months after scoring the winning penalty in Real's second Champions League victory over their city rivals in three seasons.

In the final La Liga derby at Atletico's Vicente Calderon yesterday morning (Singapore time), Ronaldo's deflected free-kick opened the scoring before he doubled the lead from the penalty spot and completed his 39th Real Madrid hat-trick with a simple finish from Gareth Bale's fine cross.

Real coach Zinedine Zidane was full of praise for the attacker.

"I never had any doubt. It is not his three goals that are going to change my mind," said the Frenchman on Ronaldo's case to be crowned the world's best player for 2016.

"He showed it all last season, he shows it in every game.

"There is so much expected of him, but he is ahead of the rest.

NO DEBATE

"Three goals in a match like this may make everyone agree, but for me there is no debate.

"The Ballon d'Or will be his."

Despite enduring his worst start to a campaign since joining Real, Ronaldo is now joint-top scorer in the league on eight goals, alongside Barcelona pair Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

"Tonight Cristiano shut the mouths of those that doubted him," said Real winger Lucas Vazquez.

Fullback Marcelo added: "I have no words left to say about him, all you need to do is watch a replay of tonight's game."

Real are now unbeaten in 29 games across all competitions stretching back to April, but this was Zidane's men's best display in that run.

The performance was even more impressive given Real were missing six key players through injury.

But those absences forced Zidane to change his system to devastating effect, with Ronaldo playing as a centre forward and the outstanding Isco in his natural role just behind the 31-year-old.

"He was phenomenal. In the first half he didn't lose a single ball," added Zidane on the Spaniard.

"That position is his position, and with him behind Cristiano, we were very well balanced."

But the Real boss refused to admit Ronaldo would be retained as the central striker once Karim Benzema and Alvaro Morata are fit again.

Meanwhile, a third league defeat in four games left Atletico's title credentials hanging by a thread as Real march on. - Wire Services.

la ligaREAL MADRIDatletico madrid