Real Madrid extended their lead at the top of La Liga to eight points with a brace from Karim Benzema giving them a 2-1 victory over Athletic Club on Wednesday.
The game was Los Blancos’ last before the winter break and they did not let a recent spate of coronavirus cases affect them, signing off for 2021 with a win.
The away side took the lead inside five minutes courtesy of a wonder-strike from Benzema. After neat interplay with Toni Kroos on the edge of the box, he unleashed an incredible first-time finish from an impossible angle.
Moments later, the Frenchman found the net again. The ball broke favourably to Benzema in the box and he made no mistake, although he was on the receiving end of a hefty challenge from goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala which left him out of action for a while.
The drama kept on coming in the opening stages with Athletic pulling one back in the 10th minute, when Oihan Sancet produced a scintillating effort of his own which clipped the post on its way in.
The first half continued to provide plenty to entertain the neutrals. In quick succession Vencedor smashed an effort well over the bar and a De Marcos block prevented Benzema a near-certain goal after good work from Eden Hazard.
The second half was a less exciting affair, though there was still several flashpoints. Kroos should have done better just before the hour mark when he fired an effort too high, while Inaki Williams blasted a shot into the side netting.
Athletic then struggled to carve out chances as Real shut up shop, but they did go close through Raul Garcia in the closing stages, with Hazard also being denied a rare goal before full-time.
In the end it was a valuable, hard-fought three points for Los Blancos and the result leaves them in pole position in the title race heading into La Liga’s winter break.
Here is how Carlo Ancelotti’s charges rated…
Thibaut Courtois (GK) – 5/10 – Not his busiest day. He did complete one save but had no chance with the goal.
Lucas Vazquez (RB) – 6/10 – Not particularly convincing again. Ancelotti will be hoping to welcome Dani Carvajal back into the fold after the break.
Eder Militao (CB) – 7/10 – Gobbled up aerial balls with ease. Was also authoritative on the ground.
Nacho Fernandez (CB) – 7/10 – Less active than his defensive partner but read the game well. They make a good pair.
Ferland Mendy (LB) – 6/10 – Energetic display, though Williams’ pace did cause him a few issues. Delivery might have been better.
Federico Valverde (CM) – 6/10 – Helped Real dominate in spells with a selfless midfield performance.
Eduardo Camavinga (CM) – 7/10 – Filled in for Casemiro admirably, bringing the Brazilian’s trademark bite. Finished with six tackles.
Toni Kroos (CM) – 7/10 – Passed Athletic to death and was strong in the tackle, not losing a single ground duel all game. ‘Assisted’ Benzema’s first but we’re not sure he can take too much credit for that…
Eden Hazard (RW) – 7/10 – Another 90 minutes in the tank. Well, almost. A second successive promising display, his retaining of the ball was terrific.
Karim Benzema (ST) – 9/10 – His first goal was of a quality so rarely seen, even at the top level. He was irresistible throughout, linking things together experty.
Vinicius Junior (LW) – 6/10 – Not his busiest evening. He is probably in need of the upcoming winter break in his defence.
Mariano Diaz (RW) – N/A
Peter Gonzalez (LW) – N/A
Luka Jovic (ST) – N/A