Many were surprised that he was even on the field at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, but when Cristiano Ronaldo left it he did so with the adoring chants of Real Madrid's fans ringing in his ears.
Jose Mourinho had been expected to rest the Portugal star ahead of Wednesday's Champions League last-16 clash against his former club Manchester United due to fitness worries, but the 28-year-old shrugged off any concerns with a virtuoso display.
He fired a hat-trick in the 4-1 win over Sevilla, and had a hand in the other goal, before being taken off with almost half an hour to play as the sounds of "Ronaldo, Ronaldo" resounded around the ground.
It was a touching moment for the player, who has not always had the closest relationship with the Madridistas despite his phenomenal scoring record.
He took his tally to 24 in La Liga this season -- behind only Lionel Messi's 34 -- and 36 in all competitions as he fired his 20th treble since joining Real from United for a world-record $130 million fee in 2009.
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Ronaldo's low cross gave Karim Benzema the easiest of his 50 La Liga goals as the ball ricocheted kindly off Sevilla's Fernando Navarro, then he fired in a superb left-foot effort from outside the box in the 26th minute to make it 2-0.
Just 36 seconds after the halftime break, Ronaldo was at it again as he pounced on a error to score his 11th goal in nine games against Sevilla in all competitions.
The 12th was worth the price of admission as he led a counter attack from his own penalty area, and slotted home a return pass from Gonzalo Higuain.
The Argentine forward departed soon after Ronaldo did -- but it left Real a player short after he received a second yellow card.
Midtable Sevilla also dropped to 10 men in the 80th minute as Dutch defender Hedwiges Maduro also picked up a second booking, but Manu del Moral still managed a late consolation goal.
The result left Real four points behind second-placed city rivals Atletico and 13 adrift of Barcelona, who both play on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Malaga stayed fourth with a 2-1 win at Levante thanks to two goals from 20-year-old midfield star Isco, while Valencia moved up to fifth with a 1-0 win at Celta Vigo as Paraguay striker Nelson Valdez netted three minutes into time added on.
Manchester City's Premier League title defense is in tatters after Saturday's shock 3-1 defeat by promoted team Southampton.
Leaders Manchester United can move 12 points clear of second-placed City with victory in Sunday's home match against Everton.
City boss Roberto Mancini had been defiant after last weekend's 2-2 draw with Liverpool, but the Italian was more downbeat about his team's chances after dropping more points.
"I used to be always optimistic and want to be in this moment, but it's difficult. I think we now have 10% chance. I don't think United will drop 12 points," he told reporters
"It was a really poor performance. Southampton were better than us. We conceded two goals which I didn't think a team like us could concede. We played this game with only two or three players. Three versus 11 was really difficult."
Gareth Barry gave away possession for Southampton's first goal by Jason Puncheon and also conceded an embarrassing own-goal soon after halftime to make it 3-1.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart was at fault for Steven Davis' goal for 2-0, and Edin Dzeko's 12th in the league this season for City in the 39th minute did not signal the fightback it promised.
Chelsea won for the first time in five matches to retain third place, thrashing third-bottom Wigan 4-1 to ease the pressure on manager Rafael Benitez.
Veteran midfielder Frank Lampard scored his 12th goal this season, moving closer to Bobby Tambling's club record total of 202, as the 34-year-old raised speculation that he will earn a new contract.
"It is not my decision. I am trying to improve him, if that is possible, because he is a great influence," Benitez said.
Chelsea stayed a point ahead of fourth-placed Tottenham, whose winger Gareth Bale scored both goals in a 2-1 win at home to Newcastle to take his tally to 13 in the league.