Karim Benzema hit a hat-trick for Real Madrid as the champions thrashed Almeria 4-2 to cut the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona to eight points on Saturday.
The French striker climbed to 17 goals in La Liga this season, one behind Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski, the division’s top scorer.
Benzema netted his treble in the first half and Rodrygo added the fourth early in the second for Madrid, while Lazaro and Lucas Robertone struck for the visitors, 15th.
Almeria coach Rubi made several changes to his regular side, clearly unconvinced his team could take points from the Santiago Bernabeu — the visit of Elche on Tuesday should be more profitable in their survival bid.
Madrid played with freedom in attack during an entertaining game, albeit one low on tension with their hopes of retaining the title minimal.
“We always really want to win, and with the defeat in the last game we had even more desire,” Rodrygo told DAZN.
“We had a very good game, I’m happy for another assist and another goal, and the most important thing was the win.”
Rodrygo’s assist for Benzema’s second goal was one of the highlights of the game, with the forward backheeling the ball to himself to escape Samuel Costa.
“I think it was a pass to myself, I didn’t have anywhere to go, it was a nice pass to myself with my heel,” he added.
Both Barca and Madrid suffered midweek defeats with Los Blancos tumbling 4-2 at Girona where Argentine striker Taty Castellanos scored four.
Perhaps chastened by that pummelling, coach Carlo Ancelotti deployed Aurelien Tchouameni at the base of the midfield, instead of using Toni Kroos there again.
Benzema also returned after missing the visit to Montilivi with a knock and it paid deadly dividends for Los Blancos.
Vinicius Junior danced away from two defenders to get to the touchline and squared the ball to Benzema for a simple finish in the fifth minute.
The forward doubled his tally and Madrid’s lead after 17 minutes, although this time the credit belonged to Rodrygo.
The Brazilian winger showed great strength and skill to hold off and then beat Costa, before teeing up Benzema to finish.
– Poor pitch –
The 35-year-old completed his hat-trick after 42 minutes from the penalty spot after Largie Ramazani clumsily fouled Lucas Vazquez.
The Belgian winger did make amends for his mistake by setting up Lazaro to tap home for Almeria in stoppage time at the end of the first half.
If it gave the visitors any comeback hopes, they were crushed early in the second half when Rodrygo turned on the edge of the box and launched a rocket into the top corner.
Robertone headed home on the hour mark for Almeria from Francisco Portillo’s cross as Madrid’s defence switched off.
Although their hopes of denying Barcelona the title are extremely slim, Ancelotti will not be happy with his side’s struggles at the back.
Following an impressive haul of seven clean sheets in nine games, Madrid have now let in six goals in their last two matches, with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City looming in the Champions League semi-finals.
Benzema thought he had won a penalty with 10 minutes remaining when he was felled by goalkeeper Fernando Martinez but VAR showed the Madrid forward had upended defender Rodrigo Ely first.
The striker hit the post in the final stages, while Madrid substitute Marco Asensio struck the woodwork twice and Eduardo Camavinga had a goal ruled out for offside against Vazquez as Ancelotti’s side toyed with Almeria.
The hosts played slick football even though the pitch at the Bernabeu has deteriorated, with the club planning to replace it before City visit in May.
“We played a really complete game, on an attacking level we were really good on a pitch where it was difficult to play just a few touches,” Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos told DAZN.