Taty Castellanos became the first player this century to score four past Real Madrid in LaLiga as Girona beat Los Blancos 4-2 at Montilivi on Tuesday to put Barcelona a step closer to the title.
Madrid went into the midweek round of fixtures 11 points adrift of their bitter rivals with eight games left, and this deserved defeat could see the gulf widen even further.
Castellanos netted twice inside 24 minutes to put Girona in charge, and although Vinicius Junior pulled one back just after the half-hour mark, Madrid largely looked blunt without the injured Karim Benzema.
Girona picked up where they left off at the start of the second half, Castellanos quickly completing his treble before adding a fourth that rendered Lucas Vazquez’s late goal irrelevant.
Michel’s side raced into an early lead.
Rodrigo Riquelme instigated a wonderful move with an incisive disguised ball into the box for Ivan Martin, who backheeled to Miguel Gutierrez, and his first-time cross was nodded home by Castellanos.
He got his second in the 24th minute, blasting home after nudging Eder Militao out of the way and racing on to a hopeful Arnau Martinez punt.
Vinicius nodded in Marco Asensio’s right-wing cross in at the back post to earn Madrid a lifeline.
But the two-goal deficit was restored 36 seconds after half-time as Castellanos guided Yan Couto’s delivery home.
Any remaining doubt about the outcome was then put to bed just past the hour, Castellanos heading a deflected cross past the unconvincing Andriy Lunin, with Vazquez’s Vinicius-assisted tap-in too little, too late.
What does it mean? Madrid disappearing without a trace
Clearly at this point Madrid’s focus is the Champions League - that can be the only explanation for how limp this performance was. That and the absence of Benzema.
Still, as good as Benzema is, one player missing should not cause such a dramatic drop-off in performance for the team.
Nevertheless, Castellanos showed just how big an impact a recognised centre-forward can have.
Castellanos rules supreme
What a performance this was Granted, Lunin’s goalkeeping left a lot to be desired at times, but credit is due to Castellanos for being so clinical and routinely putting himself in the right place at the right time.
His four goals came from six shots totalling 1.6 xG, highlighting how he arguably got a little fortunate with Lunin’s display. Yet he still managed to get five shots on target - all you can do as a striker is get your efforts between the posts, and his opponent could not cope.
Vinicius typically involved
Vinicius certainly cannot be accused of not trying. He scored Madrid’s first goal and set up their second with a brilliant run and cut-back, one of his 17 touches in the box - 11 more than anyone else.
He really did take the game to Girona, but he was pretty fortunate not to get sent off. In typical Vinicius fashion, he seemed to get involved in every scrap and melee, which saw tempers boil more than once. He got booked and somehow avoided a second card on two occasions.
Madrid will look to bounce back at home to Almeria on Saturday.