A hat-trick from Karim Benzema saw Real Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in LaLiga on Sunday to bounce back from a disappointing draw at Leganes last time out.
Zinedine Zidane's men were left seven points behind bitter rivals Atletico Madrid in second after their win over Eibar on Saturday, but Los Blancos just about did enough thanks to Benzema at the Santiago Bernabeu in a match that will not live long in the memory.
Madrid were especially poor and lacking in ideas against an Athletic side up for a scuffle during a woeful first half that did little to capture the imagination.
But the breakthrough did arrive early in the second half courtesy of the in-form Benzema, and he added two well-taken finishes late on to wrap up a fairly straightforward win over Champions League-chasing Athletic.
A frustratingly scrappy first half passed with precious little excitement, as Athletic's attackers failed to link up particularly effectively and Madrid lacked cutting edge.
The most promising move at either end resulted in the only shot on target of the first 45 minutes just before half-time, as Raul Garcia's header from a corner was easy plucked from the air by Keylor Navas.
Madrid quickly stepped things up after the break, however, as Benzema rose to meet Marco Asensio's cross with a header that was too powerful for Iago Herrerin to keep out.
Benzema was taking the game to Athletic almost singlehandedly and went close again just before the hour, receiving Lucas Vazquez's cut-back and putting a first-time effort agonisingly wide of the bottom-left corner.
The Frenchman found the target 13 minutes from time, however, nodding in a Luka Modric corner to make the most of Herrerin's poor positioning.
And Herrerin was culpable again in stoppage-time, coming way out of his goal and botching a clearance, allowing substitute Gareth Bale to tee up Benzema to seal his hat-trick with a 30-yard finish into the open goal.
What does it mean? Second still in reach for Madrid
Although it is hardly a huge achievement, Madrid can certainly still steal second place from Atletico in their final five games, with Diego Simeone's men just four points ahead.
However, you would have to think they cannot afford to drop any more points if they want to usurp Atletico and, judging from Sunday's display, that might be expecting a little much of them.
Benzema carries Madrid
Hardly anyone in a Madrid shirt stood out on Sunday, with the team's performance generally underwhelming and lacking in invention. Benzema, however, battled away with Athletic's physical defence, got all three goals and could have had another. Los Blancos would be in a much worse position this season without him.
Herrerin horror show
Although few Athletic players had a good game, their goalkeeper Herrerin was by far the worst. He got a hand to Benzema's first goal and failed to keep it out, then got caught completely out of position for the French striker's second and his dreadful clearance directly led to the last goal. A nightmare for the goalkeeper.
Key Opta Facts
11 - Real Madrid's Karim Benzema has scored 11 goals against Athletic in LaLiga, more than against any other opponent. Favourite. pic.twitter.com/3Qe8v0SoUv— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 21, 2019
- Real Madrid's last eight league goals scored have been scored by Karim Benzema, who got his first hat-trick since December 2015 (against Rayo Vallecano).
- Benzema has scored in five LaLiga games in a row, his best scoring streak in the competition since February 2016.
- This was the fifth league game at the Santiago Bernabeu this season that was goalless at half-time, but Real Madrid are unbeaten in those games (W4 D1)
- Luka Modric has provided six assists in LaLiga this season, the most in any league campaign since he joined Real Madrid (alongside 2017-18 and 2013-14).
- Athletic Bilbao have lost 13 of their last 14 LaLiga games against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu (D1) conceding 48 goals (3.4 goals per game).
Madrid face a short trip to Champions League-chasing Getafe next time out on Thursday, while Athletic return to the capital a day earlier to face Leganes
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