Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick to power Real Madrid to a 5-1 home win over Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday, as the defending champions strung together back-to-back Spanish league victories for the first time this season.
Madrid will head into next weekend's "clasico" match at Camp Nou eight points behind leader Barcelona, but at least Jose Mourinho's side is showing strong signs it has recovered its dominating form from the last campaign.
Deportivo opened through Ivan "Riki" Sanchez-Rico 16 minutes in, but Ronaldo equalized from the penalty spot in the 23rd and netted again just before halftime after Angel Di Maria had extended the lead.
Pepe added a headed goal in the 66th before Ronaldo capped the victory with a spot kick in the 83rd.
"The most important thing about my three goals is that they helped the team to win," said Ronaldo. "We know it will be tough against Barcelona, we are playing away from home. But we have to be focused and confident that we can play a good game and get the victory."
Ronaldo's 17th career hat trick lifted him even with Barecelona's Lionel Messi with six goals each through six rounds. Both trail Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao by one goal.
Also on Sunday, Atletico won 1-0 at the winless Espanyol thanks to Raul Garcia's header to rise into second place, two points behind Barcelona.
Valladolid thrashed visiting Rayo Vallecano 6-1 with doubles by Oscar Gonzalez and Manucho, while Osasuna beat Levante 4-0 and Granada edged out Celta Vigo 2-1 for both teams' first wins of the season.
Until now, Madrid had been unable to reproduce the same attacking verve that had led it to convincing victories over Manchester City in the Champions League and Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.
But after shaking off Deportivo's early goal, it quickly took care of business at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on a night it could ill afford another slip up.
"We started without a lot of energy, but we woke up after the 1-0," said Ronaldo. "It was an important win because we knew we couldn't drop any more points.
Mourinho rested regular starters Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa with Madrid set to visits Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday, shifting Sergio Ramos over to take Arbeloa's place on the right side of the defence.
The Portuguese manager also loaded his attack with creative midfielders Mesut Oezil and Luka Modric playing together for the first time.
Early on, Madrid showed some of the same uninspired play that has dogged it since the beginning of the domestic campaign, and Deportivo had little trouble fending off its timid early incursions before striking first. Riki picked up a short pass, deftly dribbled by Raphael Varane, and slipped a shot past onrushing goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
A foul by Deportivo defender Manuel Pablo Garcia on Di Maria just inside the area gave Madrid the chance to draw even, and Ronaldo coolly slotted the spot kick into the right corner.
With the score even, Madrid pressed forward with Di Maria tormenting the visitors' left flank. Modric soon slipped a perfect pass between three opponents for the Argentina forward to score in the 39th, heading in his own rebound after goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia deflecting his initial shot off the post.
"The key was to increase our pressure so we could score more goals," said Ronaldo.
Ronaldo made it 3-1 five minutes later when Aranzubia blocked Ramos' strike, only for the ball to sail behind him and fall to Ronaldo, who easily headed it into the net.
Kaka, who is trying to work his way back into Mourinho's good graces after failing to secure a transfer this summer, made a rare appearance coming on at the start of the second half for Oezil. Alonso soon joined him, replacing Modric.
The former Liverpool player teed up Pepe's goal with a curling free kick that the defender was left unmarked to turn by the helpless Aranzubia.
Ronaldo got his treble with another spot kick after Evaldo used his arm to block Kaka's pass in the area.
"I knew this result was a possibility, but I would have liked my team to have shown more courage," said coach Jose Oltra, whose promoted Deportivo recorded its second loss of the season.
On Saturday, it was: Sevilla 2, Barcelona 3; Valencia 2, Zaragoza 0; Malaga 4, Real Betis 0; and Real Sociedad 2, Athletic Bilbao 0.
Getafe hosts Mallorca on Monday.