Timeless striker Karim Benzema was at the centre of things for 10-man Real Madrid as they defeated strugglers Espanyol to go, temporarily at least, top of La Liga.
Coach Zinedine Zidane’s recent rotations continued at Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, with Isco and Luka Modric among those dropping to the substitutes’ bench after last weekend’s 2-1 win at Alaves. Those selected, predictably, dominated from the off and the unlikely source of France centre-back Raphael Varane opened the scoring with a striker’s finish on 37 minutes into the bottom corner.
Vinicius Junior kept seeing chances go to waste before Benzema – who’d assisted his countryman for the opener – then settled any nerves on 79 minutes. Uruguay centre midfielder Fede Valverde burst into the area and artfully centered for the 31-year-old to stroke home a 10th top-flight goal of a productive campaign.
Here are the player ratings:
REAL MADRID (4-3-3)
Thibaut Courtois 6: A gentle return to the XI for the Belgium giant. Faced only two attempts on target.
Dani Carvajal 6: Solid display from Madrid’s reliable right-back. Didn’t come close to repeating last weekend’s match-winning antics at Alaves.
Raphael Varane 8: Just a third La Liga goal of the calendar year from the Madrid centre-back. Took it with aplomb, tucking a shot into the bottom corner. Defensive aptitude was not tested.
Sergio Ramos 7: Ate up the aimless long balls pumped forwards by Espanyol.
Ferland Mendy 5: Back into the XI after being given only injury time at Alaves. Put in a commanding display versus ex-Barcelona utility man Aleix Vidal, until two rash fouls led to his dismissal. An issue with Marcelo injured.
Fede Valverde 7: A pass accuracy of 88.4 per cent is notable, so too his dynamism. This was on show with the burst that teed up Benzema’s clincher. The pirouette and low cross were exceptional.
Casemiro 6: Brazil anchor man didn’t need to break a sweat. Produced some wayward shooting.
Toni Kroos 7: Germany centre midfielder held things together as expected, before being removed for Modric.
Rodrygo 6: Brazil wonder kid started brightly, then faded. Fizzed in a cross and curled one wide, before disappearing from view. That’s no goal in a month, for club or country, after he scored four times from October 31-November 7.
Karim Benzema 8: Settled any nerves with precise finish to make it 2-0. Lovely interplay in first half to play Vinicius Junior in, to no avail. But got the assist for Varane. Majestic player.
Vinicius Junior 7: The Brazil teenager simply never stops running. Was involved in a personal duel with Espanyol ‘keeper Diego Lopez in the first half – but could not find a way through. That lack of end product remains.
Luka Modric 6: Like-for-like change with Kroos.
Brahim Diaz N/A: Back in action for the final throes after several niggling injuries.
Eder Militao N/A: Thrown on after the Mendy red card.
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