Karim Benzema led Real Madrid to a 3-1 victory away at Celta Vigo, scoring twice and setting up a late Marco Asensio goal to earn the capital city side another vital three points in the title race.
Santi Mina had pulled one back for Celta Vigo after an early Benzema brace, but the Galician side couldn’t draw level despite throwing all they had at their guests in the second half.
For Zinedine Zidane, who returned to a more traditional back four system after his successful back three experiment against Atalanta in midweek, this is a huge victory that means Real Madrid will go to sleep this Saturday one point ahead of Barcelona in second and three points behind leaders Atletico Madrid – ahead of their title rivals’ fixtures on Sunday.
Buoyed by their midweek Champions League progression, Real Madrid started well and pinned Celta Vigo in their own half in the opening exchanges.
After Benzema had one attempt that was deflected to safety by Hugo Mallo, the Frenchman found the target in the 20th minute to continue his scoring run when he beat the offside trap and received a perfect ball from Toni Kroos. After stopping the ball dead and swivelling his body like the most majestic dancer, the centre-forward fired past Celta‘s third-choice goalkeeper Ivan Villar to make it six matches in a row with a goal.
Just 10 minutes later, and after a strange Vinicius chest over an open goal, Benzema had his second of the afternoon and again he was assisted by Kroos. The German tackled the ball off Renato Tapia into Benzema‘s path and the Frenchman did the rest to make it a 2-0 lead.
As brilliant as Kroos had been, though, he then gave away a silly freekick in the 40th minute by grabbing Iago Aspas as the Galician was in full stride, with Denis Suarez placing the ball perfectly on the head of Santi Mina to score from the set piece and to change the mood at half time.
Celta Vigo started the second half much better than they had the first and Thibaut Courtois‘ weekly wonder save arrived on the hour mark as he got down to deny Aspas.
With 20 minutes to go, Zidane changed up his system by bringing off Kroos for Asensio to add more width, with the system becoming a more traditional 4-3-3.
Although Celta Vigo continued to push for an equaliser, Real Madrid did have another excellent chance and it was 100 percent created by Benzema. The No.9 pinched the ball off Nestor Araujo and unloaded a shot, but Villar denied him his hat-trick.
Yet the final 10 minutes saw the home side throw everything they could at Courtois‘ goal, including an 82nd minute Aspas freekick that struck the post thanks to the slightest of deflections from Casemiro in the Real Madrid wall.
Substitute Facundo Ferreyra had a double chance in the final minute of regular time, but was blocked twice by Nacho and by the Duracell Bunny that is Casemiro.
In stoppage time, Asensio scored from a Benzema cross to add extra polish on a victory that sends Real Madrid into the international break with a run of eight wins and two draws from their most recent 10 matches across all competitions.
1 – Celta Vigo: Ivan Villar; Hugo Mallo, Jeison Murillo (Facundo Ferreyra, min.84), Nestor Araujo, Aaron Martín; Renato Tapia; Brais Mendez (Fran Beltran, min.84), Denis Suarez, Nolito (Augusto Solari, min.72 (Jose Fontan, min.90)); Iago Aspas, Santi Mina.
3 – Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois; Lucas Vazquez, Raphael Varane, Nacho, Ferland Mendy; Casemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos (Marco Asensio, min.71), Fede Valverde; Vinicius, Karim Benzema
Goals: 0-1, min.20: Benzema; 0-2, min.30: Benzema; 1-2, min 40: Santi Mina; 1-3, min.90+1: Marco Asensio.
Referee: Mario Melero Lopez.
Yellow cards: Renato Tapio (min.25), Denis Suarez (min.78) and Augusto Solari (min.85) for Celta Vigo. Vinicius (min.22), Toni Kroos (min.40), Nacho (min.71) and Luka Modric (min.81) for Real Madrid.
Red cards: None