Real Madrid stayed hot on the trail of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid atop La Liga with an assured 3-0 victory over Villarreal on Wednesday.
Injuries to Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale were the catalyst to Madrid’s five changes from the side that beat Getafe 5-1 last weekend, while Villarreal were without the likes of Alphonse Areola and Roberto Soldado for the same reason.
Possession was evenly distributed between the two sides for the first half-hour, with chances limited to snapshots, but Los Blancos suddenly sprang into life as Modric found Danilo unmarked down the right and crossed towards the near post, which Benzema attacked, but the Frenchman couldn’t divert his touch on target.
Nonetheless, he needed little time to make up for his miss as he showed true poacher’s instinct to read the rebound from Sergio Asenjo’s save on an earlier shot and swept it over the line.
However, Keylor Navas came to the hosts’ rescue just moments later as Cedric Bakambu launched a counterattack, his turn-and-pass then finding Adrian Lopez down the right. The former Atletico Madrid attacker proceeded to play a first-time ball to an unmarked Denis Suarez in the box, yet the midfielder’s shot was beaten away by the Costa Rican.
A case of mistaken identity, meanwhile, saw Danilo wrongly booked for a late challenge on Denis Suarez, when Casemiro was indeed the offender, but the midfielder’s second booking escaped controversy as he still accumulated a yellow-card suspension for the local derby against Rayo Vallecano at the weekend.
Villarreal continued to defend proficiently for the first part of the second half, Daniele Bonera denying Ronaldo an open goal with a perfectly-timed tackle and Eric Bailly then halting a Madrid breakaway with another challenge on the Portuguese, but their efforts gradually became more last-ditch as Los Merengues upped the tempo.
Vazquez cut in from the right and had his cross-cum-shot parried away by Asenjo, who performed wonders in Areola’s absence, but he was second time lucky as he surged towards the edge of the box from the same flank and unleashed a rasping drive across Asenjo and into the bottom-left corner of the goalkeeper’s net.
Marcelo promptly drilled a low ball across the face of Asenjo’s goal, and while it was cleared off the line, a superb Madrid counter was finished off by an equally-superb, sliding finish from the late run of Modric through the middle of the custodian’s goal.
However, the hosts’ victory was marred somewhat by a potential injury to Ronaldo in added time as he substituted himself while clutching his hamstring.
Real Madrid 3-0 Villarreal
Benzema 41, Vazquez 69, Modric 76
Real Madrid: Navas; Danilo, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos (Isco 73), Modric (James 79), Casemiro; Vazquez, Benzema, Ronaldo
Villarreal: Asenjo; Mario, Bonera, Bailly, Rukavina; Jonathan (Samu 62), Trigueros (Rodri 73), Bruno; Denis, Adrian (Baptistao 64), Bakambu
Referee: Clos Gomez