Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid will have the upper hand for the Clasico showdown at Barcelona's Camp Nou in nine days time after Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday moving them back to the Spanish first division summit a point above their bitter rivals.
Barcelona had crushed Almeria 8-0 with Lionel Messi bringing up a century of league goals for the club with a hat-trick and Ronaldo matched that feat with his own treble as Real maintained their perfect home record with a sixth win.
Ronaldo took his league season's tally to 15 with a hat-trick (30 minutes, 62, 90) as unbeaten Real made it 32 points from a possible 36 and now they hope to end a run of four successive defeats against Barcelona.
Ronaldo's 15 goals take him top of the goalscoring charts two above Messi who is on 13 after his treble helped bring up a century of goals and he is now on 101 goals with Samuel Eto'o mark of 108 goals the next target.
The 23-year-old Messi opened the scoring on 16 minutes and netted again on 36 minutes to make it 100 league goals in a Barcelona shirt in just 154 games before completing his hat-trick with a tap-in on 66 minutes.
Barcelona were 5-0 up at half-time and Messi's third goal and a brace from substitute Bojan Krkic in the second half made it 8-0 to equal the biggest away win in league history matching Barcelona's 8-0 win at Las Palmas back in 1959.
"We weren't trying to send a warning out to anyone," insisted Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. "After Real Madrid and Barcelona Almeria had the third best defence in the league before this match and that says a lot about our win."
Real could have gone behind with Spanish international striker Fernando Llorente forcing Pepe to clear off the line as early as the second minute.
The hosts dusted themselves down and Higuain showed great strength to shrug off his man and cooly finish.
Llorente finally got the goal his hard work deserved firing into the roof of the net on 40 minutes to make it 2-1 at the interval with his ninth goal of the season.
Real took command in the second half and two goals in five minutes killed off the match.
Sergio Ramos scored his first goal of the season from the penalty spot on 57 minutes before Ronaldo's swerving free-kick crept thanks in part to some poor goalkeeping.
The Portuguese star converted a penalty for his hat-trick and the former Manchester United man and Messi are setting the league alight with their goals this season and come face to face on November 29 in the eagerly-anticipated Clasico.
Ronaldo has yet to win a Clasico while Messi has been part of the team that won the last four and scored in the last meeting between the two sides in April when Barcelona won 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Both teams are in European action before the Monday night showpiece with Barcelona travelling to Panathinaikos on Wednesday while Real Madrid travel to Ajax on Tuesday for their Champions League game.
Villarreal saw their 100 percent home record of five wins at El Madrigal come to an end, however, Rossi's 73rd minute volley salvaged a point and Villarreal stay three points ahead of Valencia in third but eight points behind Real.
Aritz Aduriz had put Valencia into a 20th minute lead to give Valencia the initiative and the visitors frustrated the home side before Rossi produced a clinical volley to clinch a point.
Source: AFP Global Edition