Real Madrid 2-1 Eibar: Player ratings as Karim Benzema brace earns hosts victory

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Karim Benzema

Real Madrid came from behind to deny Eibar a double win in the league this season. Los Blancos were 1-0 down at half-time, but a brace from Karim Benzema helped them get the better of the visitors and bag all three points.

Marc Cardona opened the scoring with a chip over Keylor Navas after he was set up by Gonzalo Escalante. The visitors were in total control but Madrid righted their wrongs in the second half and completed what was actually an unlikely comeback.

We take a look at how the Real players fared.

REAL MADRID 4-3-3

Keylor Navas 5: Was not tested as often. He could have done better with his distribution, especially amid all the intense pressing from Eibar.

Alvaro Odiozola 7: Kept a check on Barcelona loanee Marc Cucurella, so full marks for that. He also did well to set up Benzema for the equaliser.

Raphael Varane 5: Worst player in Madrid’s back-line, and by extension, on the entire pitch in the first half. Did well to put in a good shift after the break, but not enough to deserve a higher rating.

Nacho 5: The lesser of the two evils, Nacho covered for a couple of Varane’s mistake. But it was still a bad day at the office for Madrid’s centre-backs, especially in the first half.

Sergio Reguilon 6: A positive performance from the youngster, although he could have done better to prevent Cardona from scoring Eibar’s goal.

Federico Valverde 7: Madrid’s best player in the first half. He controlled the tempo in midfield beautifully and provided more than able support to Luka Modric in the double pivot.

Luka Modric 5: Pick-pocketed a couple of times and dribbled past players, however, the first half was a total nightmare for the Croatian. The second was only slightly better.

Isco 8: The source of most of the creativity for Madrid. Isco wants to fix his spot in the starting line-up after a troubling season and he is showing it through his performances.

Marco Asensio 6: Asensio did add some much-needed fire-power in the Madrid frontline but there were times where he could have done better with his decision making.

Gareth Bale 4: Performances like this will not do any good to Bale’s chances of continuing at the club. He was shaky with his passes and horrible with his shooting. Defeated.

Karim Benzema 9: Madrid’s saviour did it again. Had the ball in the back of the net four times, but only two of those, both headers, changed the scoreline. Clearly Madrid’s best player in this fixture and the entire season.

SUBSTITUTES 

Lucas Vazquez 6: Came on for the last 15 minutes, nothing significant from him.

Toni Kroos 7: Came on as a late substitute and grabbed an assist from the corner.

Brahim Diaz N/A: Arrived in injury time.

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Valverde refusing to believe title race done if Barcelona beat Atletico

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Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has dismissed suggestions the La Liga title race will be over if his side beat Atletico Madrid in this weekend’s battle of the top two at the Nou Camp.

A victory for the defending champions would move them 11 points clear of second-placed Atletico with seven games remaining.

For a side that has only lost three times in their last 75 league games, it seems unlikely Barca would let slip such an advantage but Valverde is taking nothing for granted.

He told a press conference as reported by the Spanish press: “It (the gap) is not definitive until it is mathematically so.

“For many people, the league was decided in January. Then you lose a game and the league is back on. We need to carry on until the end.”

Asked if a draw would be a decent result, Valverde added: “If you’re losing 2-0 with three minutes to go, then yes a draw is a great result.

“But our intention is to win. Of course, anything can then happen in the game but we’re setting out to win it.

“The three points are very important for both teams.”

Barca are still firmly in the hunt for the treble this season. On Wednesday, they face Manchester United in the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final at Old Trafford.

Valverde, though, is not letting that match cloud his thinking for the visit of Atletico.

The Barca boss, whose side play Valencia in the Copa del Rey final next month, said: “Tomorrow’s game is of vital importance, and after we will have four days (before playing United).

“The best way to prepare ourselves for the Champions League is to have a great game against Atletico.”

It remains to be seen how involved Lionel Messi will be this weekend after he came off the bench to help Barca salvage a 4-4 draw at Villarreal in midweek.

The Catalan club will be without several players, including winger Ousmane Dembele, with Valverde uncertain if the France international will be fit to face United.

Arturo Vidal also serves a suspension, Rafinha is injured and Jean-Clair Todibo and Thomas Vermaelen have been omitted. Goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen has been given the green light to return, however.

Despite what Valverde may say about the title race, Atletico will know their bid to be crowned champions for only the second time since 1996 will realistically end if they fail to beat Barca.

That is something they have failed to do in LaLiga since Diego Simeone took charge in December 2011.

Simeone has called on his team to show their true colours against the league leaders on Saturday night.

“That we’ve never won at the Nou Camp actually makes me very optimistic,” he told the club’s official website.

“If we win tomorrow and then we don’t win the next games, it counts for nothing. Tomorrow we have to show the identity which this team has.”

Simeone will be short of attacking options at the Nou Camp.

Diego Costa will miss out with a muscular problem, while Alvaro Morata suffered an ankle injury in the home win against Girona on Tuesday night. Thomas Lemar is also absent with a muscle injury.

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Atletico Madrid need to go for broke in title showdown with Barcelona

Andy West 5/04/2019
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Barcelona and Atletico Madrid meet at the Camp Nou on Saturday night for a game which is effectively a title decider, with the home side hoping to stretch their advantage at the top of the table to a surely insurmountable 11 points with just seven games remaining.

For Barca, there is also the backdrop of the rapidly approaching Champions League quarter-final showdown with Manchester United, but Ernesto Valverde’s men will have to put that out of their minds as they focus on securing another piece of domestic silverware.

Atletico, meanwhile, know it is win or bust if they want to retain any chance of fighting for the title, and the question of how Diego Simeone will approach the game tactically is the first of our key talking points ahead of the action.

CAN ATLETICO GO FOR BROKE?

Going flat out for victory away from home against a high-powered team like Barcelona is the last thing that comes naturally to Simeone’s Atletico, who are far more suited to sitting back, keeping the game tight and attempting to strike on the counter-attack or through a set-piece.

The recent history of this fixture has been a succession of cautious affairs, with the 1-1 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano in November perfectly illustrative of a trend which has seen just five goals scored in the last three meetings between the teams.

Atletico haven’t succeeded in netting more than once against Barca since the 2016 Champions League quarter-final, and they have never done so at the Camp Nou in 11 attempts under Simeone. The chances, therefore, of the Argentine coach suddenly instructing his players to employ the open and attack-minded approach executed so successfully by Villarreal in their 4-4 draw against Barca in midweek are vanishingly thin.

Simeone would instinctively prefer to keep the game goalless and hope that Atletico will somehow sneak a goal rather than engaging in a shoot-out, but his team will surely have to show a significant amount of attacking intent in pursuit of the victory they need to keep the title race open. The extent to which they are prepared to take risks will be the determining factor in the shape of the game.

MORE MESSI MAGIC

Last season’s corresponding fixture came in an extremely similar scenario, with a 1-0 victory for Barca in March 2018 opening up an eight-point advantage for the Catalan club which eventually proved decisive in the title race.

The only goal of that encounter came from an extremely predictable source: a free-kick from Lionel Messi, who brilliantly beat the despairing dive of Jan Oblak with a thunderous 25-yard missile into the top right corner, registering his 600th career goal and marking the third consecutive game in which he had scored with a set-piece.

Fast forward 13 months, and Messi is at it again: Tuesday night’s draw at Villarreal featured Messi rifling home another unstoppable free-kick, meaning that he has – once again – scored from a set-piece in three consecutive Barca games after also netting with dead ball strikes against Real Betis and Espanyol either side of the international break.

Only a fool would bet against Messi producing more match-winning magic to sink Atletico and taking a step closer to his first league title as club captain, and the sensational form produced by the Argentine throughout the campaign – which has seen him score 42 goals in 39 games – is providing a tantalising promise that he is building up towards a very special conclusion to the season.

PIQUE AND GRIEZMANN REUNITED

Even Messi cannot do everything on his own, however, and perhaps his team’s second-best player over the course of the season has been Gerard Pique, whose importance in the centre of defence was strikingly apparent by his absence during the madness of Tuesday’s game at Villarreal.

A rested Pique will be back to marshal his team’s efforts this weekend, and his chief task will be to shackle Atletico’s star striker, Antoine Griezmann, with whom he formed a strange kind of business partnership last summer: the defender’s film company produced an infamous video documenting the Frenchman’s decision to reject a move to Barca in preference for staying at Atletico.

Pique’s involvement in that episode understandably infuriated Barca’s hierarchy, who were incensed that a senior player could allow himself to get tangled up in the club’s failed attempt to make a high-profile signing. But they will be counting on him on Saturday night to provide a sense of order to a defence which looked chaotic in his absence, and if Pique can perform to the levels he has reached in recent weeks it will give his team a solid platform to claim a crucial victory.

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