Real Madrid moved four points clear at the top of La Liga on Saturday night after overcoming local rivals Atlético Madrid. Star man Cristiano Ronaldo scored his second hat-trick in three league games to help his side to a convincing 3-0 win in the Vicente Calderón. It was Atlético’s first home league defeat of the season.

Ronaldo, who recently extended his Madrid contract until 2021, has a quite frankly ridiculous goal record in La Liga of 268 in just 245 games. It was therefore no surprise to see him leading the way again on Saturday night. His hat-trick was not the most spectacular of his career – the first goal came courtesy of a deflected free-kick, the second from the penalty spot and the third a tap-in from a Gareth Bale cross – but his all-round Football was the main difference between the sides.

Four points clear of Barcelona

From a team perspective, his performance gave Real a crucial win over arch rivals Atlético and breathing space in the title race with Barcelona. Despite overcoming their neighbours in two Champions League finals in the past three years, Real have struggled against Atlético and their tactically astute manager Diego Simeone in La Liga. This was their first league victory against them since April 2013.

It left them four points ahead of the chasing pack after 12 games of the season. That pack is naturally led by defending champions Barcelona. But Barca slipped up earlier on Saturday, drawing 0-0 at home to Malaga in the absence of talismanic duo Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Zinedine Zidane’s Real will be desperate to reclaim the La Liga title this year. They have failed to win it since the 2011/12 season.

Ronaldo pushes case for Ballon d’Or

Even by his lofty standards, Ronaldo has enjoyed a wonderful year in 2016. There have been one or two tetchy moments – some stuttering displays early in Euro 2016 for Portugal culminated in him throwing a reporter’s microphone in a nearby lake.

But Ronaldo is always prickly when he falls short of perfection. It is merely a sign of his insatiable appetite for success.

That desire helped him to claim silverware at club and international level in the summer. Real just missed out on La Liga to Barcelona, but went on to claim their 11th Champions League title with victory on penalties over Atlético.

Ronaldo netted the winning spot-kick.

He followed that up with Portugal at Euro 2016. Despite drawing all three of their group games, Portugal went on to claim their first major international trophy as they (and Ronaldo) improved as the tournament wore on. In fact, Ronaldo’s defining moment in the Euros came when he wasn’t even on the pitch. Portugal’s extra-time victory over hosts and favourites France in the final came in the absence of key man Ronaldo. He was visibly heartbroken when forced off injured midway through the first half, but emerged from the dressing room to fire instructions and leap around on the touchline for much of the rest of the game. The man who scored the deciding goal, Éder, credited Ronaldo after the game for telling him that he would score the winner.

Saturday’s hat-trick therefore underlined Ronaldo’s status as favourite for the Ballon d’Or. He is looking to win the award for the third time in four years and fourth time overall, which would move him closer to Messi’s total of five.

Ronaldo and Messi are undoubtedly the best players of their generation, although neither had won a major international tournament up until this year. Portugal’s success at Euro 2016 may therefore give Ronaldo an edge when history compares the two.