Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth Bale celebrates a goal during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF vs RCD Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on February 18, 2017 (Photo: AFP)
Gareth Bale marked his return to action after a long injury layoff by sealing a 2-0 victory for Real Madrid over Espanyol on Saturday to provisionally stretch Zinedine Zidane's side's lead at the top of La Liga to four points.
Alvaro Morata headed home a floated cross from Isco to put Real ahead after 33 minutes against a stubborn Espanyol side and Bale steered another pass from the Spain midfielder in off the post in the 83rd minute shortly after coming off the bench.
Bale, making his first appearance since damaging ankle ligaments against Sporting Lisbon in November, netted his eighth goal of the season. Real also set a club record of scoring in 42 consecutive games in all competitions.
They top the standings on 52 points, four clear of Barcelona who host Leganes on Sunday while Sevilla, in third on 46, entertain Eibar later on Saturday. Real have two games in hand on both their title rivals.
Earlier on Saturday, Kevin Gameiro came off the bench to score a hat-trick in the space of five minutes to fire Atletico Madrid to a 4-1 win over struggling Sporting Gijon that kept them fourth in the standings on 45 points.
Yannick Carrasco had given Atletico the lead 12 seconds into the second half but Sergio Alvarez gave the impressive home side a deserved equaliser in the 49th minute.
Sporting continued to cause Diego Simeone's side problems after drawing level and Alvarez missed a gilt-edged chance to put them ahead when he sent a half-volley over the bar from close range.
For the second week in a row, however, Atletico dug deep to rescue the points from an unconvincing display.
Antoine Griezmann had a goal harshly ruled out for offside but laid on the pass for Gameiro's first strike, the former Sevilla player calmly rounding Ivan Cuellar to put Atletico ahead in the 80th minute.
Gameiro ruthlessly killed off Sporting with two quick-fire strikes, latching on to a pass from Thomas Partey to score in the 81st minute and taking advantage of another through ball from Griezmann to complete his treble.
The Frenchman is the first Atletico player to score a hat-trick in the league as a substitute while his treble was the second fastest in the history of La Liga, behind only Bebeto's for Deportivo La Coruna against Albacete in 1995.
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