Kevin Gameiro staked his claim to start Atletico Madrid's Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid on Tuesday by hitting a double in a resounding 5-0 LaLiga victory over Las Palmas, who finished the match with 10 men.
France international Gameiro was in Diego Simeone's first XI for the first time since a 3-1 victory over Sevilla on March 19 and made his mark with two impressive first-half goals at the Estadio Gran Canaria on Saturday.
The striker turned home the opener inside two minutes and added his second after a Saul Niguez header had made it 2-0, Atletico scoring three goals inside the opening 20 minutes of a LaLiga game for the first time since 1957.
Gameiro was denied his hat-trick by the post before Simeone opted to rest him ahead of the upcoming Champions League first leg at Santiago Bernabeu, sending Fernando Torres on in his place just before the hour-mark.
Having been booked in the first half for a high foot on Lucas Hernandez, the replacement for suspended centre-back Diego Godin, Kevin Prince-Boateng was shown a second yellow card when he caught Jose Gimenez with an elbow 25 minutes from time.
Gimenez sustained an adductor injury in the challenge and was replaced by Thomas Partey, who, along with Torres, added further gloss to the scoreline to open up a three-point gap on fourth-placed Sevilla, who travel to Malaga on Monday.
Atletico got off to a great start when Gameiro got away from Pedro Bigas inside the box to steer Saul's tantalising cross into the top-right corner.
It got even better for Simeone's side and two goals in quick succession effectively put them out of sight after just 18 minutes.
Saul added to his prior assist by leaping above Bigas to power Koke's right-wing corner beyond Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas, though the centre-back claimed he had been fouled in the process.
Before Las Palmas could take stock of the situation it deteriorated further, with Nicolas Gaitan sliding a pass through to Gameiro and the striker held off Dani Castellano to fires past Varas.
Atletico eased off and allowed Las Palmas to enjoy a greater share of the possession, but they struggled to test Jan Oblak and former Real Madrid forward Jese Rodriguez was booked for diving after going past Gimenez in the box.
Gameiro almost completed his hat-trick within three minutes of the restart when he slid to meet Antoine Griezmann's low cross from the left and diverted it onto the upright.
Alen Halilovic forced Oblak into a strong save with a dipping effort from outside the box before becoming the second Las Palmas player to be booked for simulation in the 56th minute.
The referee went to his pocket again nine minutes later, showing Boateng his second yellow card for catching Gimenez with his arm while challenging for a header.
Simeone granted Griezmann some rest by sending on Angel Correa in the 72nd minute and less than 60 seconds later he combined brilliantly with Thomas, who swept home a fine finish within six minutes of coming on.
Torres rounded off the scoring by turning home Filipe Luis' low cross in stoppage-time for his first goal since February, with Atletico sure to head to the Bernabeu in high spirits as they look to make the Champions League final for the third time in four seasons.
Key Opta stats:
- This was the biggest away win for Atletico under Diego Simeone in LaLiga and the biggest away from home since 1951 (5-0 vs Real Zaragoza).
- With his first goal, Kevin Gameiro scored his 50th goal in LaLiga (39 goals for Sevilla and 11 for Atletico).
- This was Las Palmas' biggest defeat at the Estadio Gran Canaria in LaLiga.
- Angel Correa has provided the most assists for Atletico in LaLiga this season (eight).
- Saul Ñiguez has scored more headed goals than any other midfielder in LaLiga since the start of 2014/15 season (eight).