Karim Benzema produced just a second La Liga hat-trick in his decade at Real Madrid to earn an ultimately convincing 3-0 triumph against Athletic Bilbao.
After a bitty first half that was littered by fouls rather than chances, the rejuvenated French striker burst into life. On 47 minutes, a tremendous interception from reserve centre-back Jesus Vallejo fuelled a counter-attack from which an unmarked Benzema nodded home forward Marco Asensio’s inch-perfect cross.
The lead was doubled on 76 minutes when Ballon d’Or holder Luka Modric swung in a deep corner from which Benzema struck an 11th headed goal of the season. The most-convincing win of Zinedine Zidane’s return to the Los Blancos dugout was completed during injury time when substitute Gareth Bale forced a rushed clearance from AWOL goalkeeper Iago Herrerin and Benzema classily lobbed home from 25 yards into an unguarded goal.
This result kept third-placed Madrid four points behind city rivals Atletico, while hampering Bilbao’s push for Europa League qualification. Here are the player ratings from Santiago Bernabeu:
REAL MADRID (4-3-3)
Keylor Navas – 6: Precious little for the Costa Rica international to do. Is making most of Courtois’ absence.
Dani Carvajal – 7: The Spain right-back relished a spiky first half, in which Madrid made 11 fouls. Did well to put Cordoba off for a first-half header.
Raphael Varane – 6: Imperious France centre-back eased through the gears as Bilbao failed to threaten.
Jesus Vallejo – 7: Impressed upon a first La Liga start in almost a year. Showed remarkable pace to deny Williams and spark opener.
Marcelo – 6: Nothing bad, nothing especially good from one of Zidane’s trusted lieutenants.
Luka Modric – 6: Tried to provide calm amid the chaos. Kept things ticking over and swung in corner for Benzema’s second.
Casemiro – 6: Ensured Madrid did not lose the physical battle. Set platform for more gifted players to show flashes of brilliance.
Toni Kroos – 7: Drove forwards and played Asensio in to tee up Benzema breakthrough. Played some glorious – and trademark – cross-field balls to Marcelo.
Lucas Vazquez – 6: Rattled in an early collision with Berchiche. Did more work defensively than offensively.
Karim Benzema – 9: French striker notched just a second La Liga hat-trick, with his brace of headers moving him into double digits for the season with his head. Is now only two away from his Madrid high-water mark of 32 goals in 2011/12.
Marco Asensio – 7: Spain forward did so well to find an unmarked for second-half opener. This was a second assist in three matches, after a previous 11-game drought.
Gareth Bale – 6: Fluffed a one on one, to give further fuel to detractors at the Bernabeu. His pace, however, helped win corner for Benzema’s second and force calamitous keeping for hat-trick goal.
Isco – 6: Kept it tidy during his 20-minute cameo, but never truly threatened.
Brahim Diaz – N/A: Winter buy was afforded a fourth La Liga run-out.
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