Real Madrid’s LaLiga title hopes are still intact after Karim Benzema inspired a 2-1 comeback win over Elche on Saturday.
Having drawn their last two league fixtures, Madrid had the chance to leapfrog Barcelona into second place and close the gap on Atletico Madrid, temporarily at least, to five points.
But a lacklustre display looked like it would result in a third straight league draw – Benzema having cancelled out Dani Calvo’s header.
Madrid’s slim chances of catching Atleti were handed a late boost, however, when Benzema thundered in a supreme finish in stoppage time to snatch the points.
Nacho scored a stunning goal for Spain in the 2018 World Cup and the defender dispatched a similarly unerring finish into the top corner early on, only to realise referee Jorge Figueroa Vazquez had blown up for a foul by Isco.
A rare opportunity to counter-attack saw Madrid craft out their best chance of the half, yet Benzema sliced wide from Vinicius Junior’s cross.
Benzema slammed an effort into the side netting shortly after the restart, before Sergio Ramos was infuriated by having a penalty appeal dismissed.
Thibaut Courtois came to Madrid’s rescue minutes later when he brilliantly denied Raul Guti, with Los Blancos then fortunate not to concede a penalty as Guido Carrillo was flagged offside before he was fouled, though the replays suggested VAR should have overturned that decision.
Madrid’s luck ran out in the 61st minute – Calvo’s header from Tete Morente’s corner clattering in off the crossbar.
The ineffective Isco was taken off in the immediate aftermath, and that change paid dividends as his replacement Modric delivered a teasing left-wing cross from which Benzema powered home with 17 minutes left.
And Benzema’s ability to drag this Madrid team through the mire came to the fore in the dying embers.
In the first minute of added time, the Frenchman sent a wicked half-volley in off the right-hand upright to send Los Blancos second, substitute Rodrygo Goes with the assist.
What does it mean? Los Blancos get lucky
Taking just three points from their last nine on offer would have left Madrid well behind their city rivals, but Benzema’s heroics ensure they are still in the hunt.
Madrid have not lost any of their last 10 games against Elche in LaLiga, winning nine of them (D1), since a 3-1 loss in March 1978, but their star-studded, albeit ageing, squad seems so reliant on Benzema to come up with the goods.
Home comforts for Benzema
It is difficult to imagine just how far off the pace Madrid would be without Benzema, who has now scored 15 LaLiga goals this season.
Across his last seven home games in LaLiga, he has now scored seven times – including netting in each of the last three appearances at home (vs Getafe, Valencia and Elche).
Isco shown up by Modric’s impact
Such a pivotal figure in previous seasons, Isco is a shadow of his former self. In a little over an hour on the pitch, he failed to create a chance, while only one of his three attempts was on target.
In contrast, his replacement Modric teed up Benzema’s equaliser and played 28 successful passes – only three fewer than Isco managed – with 24 of these coming in Elche’s half (Isco mustered 29).
Key Opta Stats:
– Real Madrid have scored 46 goals after 27 games played in LaLiga, their lowest tally at this stage in a single season since 2006-07 (37), a campaign when they finished first.
– Madrid have scored five goals in injury time in this LaLiga season, four of them scored by Benzema against Levante, Athletic, Granada and Elche (the other one was by Lucas Vazquez against Eibar).
– Only Tottenham striker Harry Kane (seven) has scored more headers than Benzema in all competitions this season (6, alongside Youssef En-Nesyri, Sasa Kalajdzic and Robert Lewandowski).
– Benzema has scored four braces in LaLiga this season. He scored more in just two of his seasons for Los Blancos: 2018-19 (5) and 2011-12 (6).
– Modric has provided 13 assists to Benzema in LaLiga, more than for any other Real Madrid player in the competition. In fact, his last five assists in LaLiga were for the Frenchman.
– Rodrygo has provided five assists in LaLiga for Real Madrid; four of them were given to Benzema.
Madrid face Atalanta in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday, while Elche face Sevilla in LaLiga a day later.
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