Karim Benzema scored twice as Real Madrid hung on for a 3-1 victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday, reducing the gap to three points behind La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.
Benzema continued his scintillating form at Balaidos by making it 10 goals in 10 games, in the same week Zinedine Zidane admitted a Madrid return could be “possible” for Cristiano Ronaldo this summer.
Celta pulled one back through Santi Mina and made Madrid uncomfortable in the second half, with Iago Aspas’s free-kick hitting the post, only for Benzema to tee up Marco Asensio for a third in injury-time.
The result increases the pressure on Atletico ahead of their game in hand at home to Alaves on Sunday while Madrid climb to second, at least until third-placed Barcelona play Real Sociedad, also on Sunday.
Talk of Ronaldo coming back to Madrid makes light of Benzema’s superb showings in recent weeks, with his five goals in Madrid’s last three league games earning a crucial draw away at Atletico, victory over Elche and now a win away at Celta.
The Frenchman’s form appears to be Madrid’s best chance of catching Atleti, who still have the advantage in terms of points but look increasingly vulnerable to the momentum of their nearest rivals.
Benzema had two early chances, the first after Vinicius Junior skipped around Celta goalkeeper Ivan Villar and the second when the ball spilled loose in the area, but both shots were blocked.
His two goals both owed a lot to Toni Kroos, who glided past three Celta shirts on the edge of the area in the 20th minute before feeding Benzema, who swivelled and shot crisply into the far corner.
Kroos’ incision set up the first and his persistence created the second 10 minutes later, as he robbed Renato Tapia and Benzema profited by curling in with his left foot.
Celta grew stronger towards the end of the half, Mina flicking wide and then heading in after being left completely unmarked from a free-kick, conceded by Kroos.
Madrid lost some control in the second half and needed Thibaut Courtois to save an Aspas header, even if Vinicius and Benzema might have extended the advantage on the counter-attack.
Aspas’ free-kick late on might have flown in had the ball not grazed Casemiro’s fringe on its way onto the post but Madrid breathed a sigh of relief and then celebrated, Asensio tapping in Benzema’s cross in injury-time.