Real Madrid on Sunday gained ground on both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in La Liga as Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr each scored in a 3-0 win over Deportivo Alaves.
Benzema, Vinicius and Gareth Bale started together for the first time and two thirds of the newly dubbed “BBV” delivered as Madrid capitalized on Barca being held by Valencia and Atletico losing at Real Betis Balompie.
Mariano Diaz, on as a substitute, added a third late on.
After 22 rounds of matches, it was the first in which Real Madrid have been the only winners from the established three clubs, which is as much an indication of their own inconsistency as the sturdiness of Atletico and, particularly, Barcelona.
Madrid could now overtake Atletico if they win the city derby next weekend, but the difference behind Barcelona, who they face in the Copa del Rey tomorrow, is still a considerable eight points.
“We will fight for everything until the end,” Real Madrid coach Santi Solari said. “Today, there was a real hunger to cut the gap.”
It might have been the 5-1 loss to Barca in October last year that proved the final straw for former Real coach Julen Lopetegui, but Alaves’ 1-0 victory at Mendizorrotza, their first over Real in 87 years, was perhaps the team’s rock bottom.
Benzema has been the revival’s ringleader since and his latest goal was his sixth in four games, his best streak since January 2016. The only La Liga player to have scored more in all competitions this season is Lionel Messi.
He did it starting alongside both Bale and Vinicius, but it was the latter, not the former, that looks to be Benzema’s most dangerous partner.
Bale endured one of his quieter nights and it was noticeable that while Benzema and Vinicius both departed to rousing ovations late on, there was a scattering of disgruntled whistles when the Welshman was replaced by Marco Asensio shortly after the hour.
“It was difficult,” Solari said. “Alaves defended very well, they were determined and there weren’t many spaces.”
It was Vinicius’ clever reverse pass through the legs of Carlos Vigaray that led to Benzema’s opener as Sergio Reguilon was set free down the left, his cross ensuring the Frenchman could not miss.
Alaves defended so deep at times that Madrid’s defense were playing more as creative midfielders, but the visitors were not without chances on the break. Tomas Pina took too long to shoot and Jony Rodriguez forced a smart save from Thibaut Courtois.
Madrid, though, ended any hopes of a comeback with 10 minutes left when Asensio picked out Vinicius at the back post. The teenager controlled and picked his spot.
Mariano’s diving header in stoppage-time from Isco’s cross added a final flourish.
Earlier, there had been another first for Atletico up front as Alvaro Morata made his debut, but it ended in disappointment after a 1-0 loss to Betis.
Atletico could have reduced the deficit to three points at the top, but Sergio Canales’ second-half penalty means that Barcelona finish the weekend one point further ahead than when they started it.
“The match was clear,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “A few chances for both teams, they took advantage of the penalty we gave them and that was enough.”
Morata enjoyed the occasional link on the counterattack with Antoine Griezmann, but there was little to suggest the pair’s chemistry will be instant.
Diego Costa is expected back from injury soon, so Morata has limited time to stake his claim.
“In the few days that he has been with us, Alvaro has worked very well,” Simeone said. “Hopefully, he can find a way to score goals, which is what we need.”
Betis’ penalty came after Filipe Luis put his hand up while anticipating a cross and looked away at the crucial moment. Canales’ shot clipped Jan Oblak’s hand, but nestled in the corner.
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