Karim Benzema scored his first La Liga goals since January as Real Madrid provisionally regained top spot with a 4-1 victory over Eibar on Saturday.
A much-changed Madrid were without Cristiano Ronaldo due to a knock and the suspended Gareth Bale as Zinedine Zidane rested Marcelo, Carvajal and Toni Kroos. In came Danilo, Nacho Fernandez, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and James Rodriguez.
Eibar had never beaten Madrid in five meetings, although their most recent was a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier in the season.
The Basques would’ve surely drawn optimism from their opponents’ recent wobble, but they were forced on the back foot almost immediately.
Benzema – the only surviving member of BBC – got in front of his marker at the far post and had a low shot initially saved by Yoel Rodriguez, but it was spilled by the goalkeeper and the No 9 made no mistake from the rebound.
Madrid exploited Eibar’s left-hand side again as James hit a cross-shot with the outside of his boot from near the byline, which Mauro dos Santos cushioned off the line for Yoel to catch. Los Blancos felt the defender handballed, but the referee waved play on.
Nonetheless, Eibar boss Jose Luis Mendilibar soon watched on from the stands with a glum expression on his face as Benzema finished off James’ inswinging free kick from point-blank range.
The Colombian quickly made it 3-0 – once more from Eibar’s left side – as he slid into the roof of Yoel’s net.
Eibar’s only chance of the first half came via top goalscorer Sergi Enrich. Ruben Pena knocked a cross from the right down for the attacker to stroke past Navas, but the latter was closed down almost immediately.
Yet just as the hosts appeared to be enjoying their best spell of the game, Marco Asensio almost hit back with a first-time strike that curled inches wide of Yoel’s right-hand post.
Moments later, Benzema’s low shot from the left was blocked by Yoel, who then got both hands on Asensio’s sliding rebound.
The tempo of the game dropped significantly in the second half as both sides cancelled one another out, although Ander Capa was very lucky that Asensio didn’t go down under his attempted trip.
From that, Benzema’s cross-shot fizzed across Yoel’s line, with no Madrid players in the penalty area to put it away.
Yet Eibar offered next to no resistance when Madrid broke just a few minutes later. Benzema was allowed to drop into his own half to pick the ball up and feed James.
The midfielder’s curling shot hit the far post, but it was swept up by Asensio in front of the of the onlooking Spain boss Julen Lopetegui.
Gonzalo Escalante thought he had pulled one back for Eibar, but the defensive midfielder was correctly flagged offside when he tucked away the rebound from his saved header.
The Basques did get their goal through Ruben Pena, who scrambed Pedro Leon’s cross home, despite the winger appearing to swipe an arm at Nacho directly in front of the linesman, but Madrid held on with little trouble.
Eibar 1-4 Real Madrid
Pena 72 (E) Benzema 14, 25, James 29, Asensio 60 (RM)
Eibar: Yoel; Capa, Ramis, Mauro, Luna (Arbilla 55); Escalante, Dani; Leon (Inui 87), Adrian (Rivera 63), Pena; Enrich
Real Madrid: Navas; Danilo, Pepe, Ramos, Nacho; Modric (Kovacic 71), Casemiro, James (Isco 75); Lucas, Benzema (Mariano 65), Asensio
Referee: Gonzalez Gonzalez