By Tim Hanlon
(Reuters) - Gareth Bale struck his first Real Madrid hat-trick and set up another goal as they showed no signs of missing the injured Cristiano Ronaldo with a thumping 4-0 La Liga victory over Valladolid on Saturday.
The Welshman knocked home two rebounds and slid in the third for a perfect treble at the Bernabeu having also set up their second goal with a cross for Karim Benzema to head home.
Real are now three points behind leaders Barcelona, who visit Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, and Atletico Madrid, also on 40 points after a 2-0 victory over Elche after Diego Costa returned from injury to continue his fine scoring run.
Koke netted from close range after 63 minutes against a battling Elche and Costa struck 11 minutes later.
"We need to continue on the same lines and be realistic," coach Diego Simeone told a news conference. "It is a good moment for the fans but we still need to go match by match," he added, with Atletico having only dropped five points so far.
"It is an important win against a tough rival where we started well but later Elche caused two or three moments of danger. We spoke at halftime about using the wings more and it helped."
Real managed a 4-1 Champions League win over Galatasaray in midweek without hamstring victim Ronaldo and his replacement Angel Di Maria, who scored in an impressive second half performance, continued that good form against Valladolid.
The Argentine hit the bar with an excellent volley from distance after five minutes and frequently delivered dangerous crosses from the left.
Valladolid played three in midfield with the inclusion of Fausto Rossi as they looked to provide extra cover for the backline but they could do little to stop the dominant Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric.
Real peppered the goal early on without luck, Di Maria having several shots saved by Diego Marino while Benzema and Sergio Ramos missing opportunities.
They eventually turned their dominance into goals after 33 minutes when Marino could only parry a Di Maria shot into the path of Bale, who headed home.
Real struck again within three minutes when Bale's cross found Benzema, who nodded in.
Bale grabbed his second goal just after the hour when Carlos Pena's clearance fell to him, and Real's world record signing scored his third late on, finishing off a Marcelo cross.
Earlier, Celta Vigo eased their relegation fears with a first home win of the season as they came from behind to beat Almeria 3-1. Fabian Orellana, Borja Oubina and Charles Dias scored for Celta after Suso put the visitors ahead. (Editing by Josh Reich)