Zinedine Zidane tips Cristiano Ronaldo for Ballon d'Or after stunning Madrid derby hat-trick
Zinedine Zidane feels Cristiano Ronaldo is certain to win the Ballon d'Or award again after his derby treble tightened Real Madrid's grip on LaLiga.
Ronaldo claimed his 39th career hat-trick as Real thrashed city neighbours Atletico Madrid 3-0 at their Estadio Vicente Calderon home on Saturday night.
The victory gave Real a four-point lead over Barcelona - who were held 0-0 by Malaga at the Nou Camp earlier in the day - and puts them nine points clear of Atletico.
And Real boss Zidane praised match-winner Ronaldo after the game, insisting he is destined to repeat his world player of the year triumphs of 2008, 2013 and 2014.
Lionel Messi is a five-time winner and again figures among the 2016 nominees, along with his Barcelona team-mates Neymar and Luis Suarez, and Ronaldo's Real colleague Gareth Bale.
But Zidane said at his post-match press conference: "I've never had any doubts that Cristiano is the best.
"Tonight ends that debate, the Ballon d'Or will be for him.
"I had no doubt, and it is not the three goals he scored that will make me change my mind.
"He demonstrated it all last season, he demonstrates it every time.
"We expect a lot from him, but he is above everyone else."
Real were without injured midfield pair Toni Kroos and Casemiro while Zidane named Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema on the bench.
But Real were dominant throughout and extended their unbeaten run to 29 games since losing to Atletico in February.
"I do not know if it's our best match (of the season) but we did a huge game against a tough opponent," Zidane said.
"We managed the game well and we started strong.
"I'm happy with the way we played. Few teams are capable of coming here and winning 3-0."
"We put the necessary intensity against a difficult opponent who always complicates the task on his ground."
Diego Simeone's Atletico have now lost three of their last four games in falling off the title pace.
Trailing to Ronaldo's deflected 23rd-minute free-kick, Atletico were on top at the start of the second half and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann went close to equalising.
But Ronaldo converted a 71st-minute penalty after being tripped by Stefan Savic before completing his hat-trick from Bale's astute pass.
Ronaldo's third took him past Alfredo Di Stefano's 17-goal record in Madrid derbies.
"In the first half they were better and we were better in the first 20 minutes of the second half," Atletico boss Simeone said.
"We were fine up to the penalty, from there it was all uphill. It hit our hopes of coming back.
"They didn't change their system much, but they played and pressed well.
Asked if losing the last ever LaLiga derby at the Calderon hurt more, Simeone replied: "Yes, just like any other game we play here until the end at the Calderon.
"We have to take it (defeat) calmly, we have to find solutions and help our players to progress, so that we can play throughout the match at the level of those 20 minutes."