Madrid, Dec 15 (efe-epa).- Real Madrid defeated Athletic Bilbao 3-1 here Tuesday to go level on points with the LaLiga leaders and extend their winning run to four matches in all competitions.
Karim Benzema had a brace, but Toni Kroos was the driving force for the Blancos attack against a visiting side that played 80 minutes with 10 men.
After being left on the bench for three games, Kroos made the most of his return to the lineup.
The opening minutes were difficult for the hosts, mainly due to a pair of giveaways by defender Lucas Vazquez. To his relief, neither Oscar De Marcos nor Iñaki Williams was capable of making Real Madrid pay for those mistakes.
Williams’ off-target effort marked a turning point, as the referee might well have awarded a penalty to Athletic for the push Dani Carvajal gave the striker as he prepared to shoot.
Instead, the referee waved off the incident moment before sending off Athletic’s Raul Garcia for a second yellow card.
Both of Garcia’s fouls were against Kroos, who gave Real Madrid the 1-0 lead at the break, scoring from the edge of the area in first-half stoppage time.
But what should have been an easy win became complicated just seven minutes into the second half, when Athletic’s Ander Capa pushed in the rebound after Thibaut Courtois made the initial stop.
The equalizer materialized on the counter courtesy of a deft give-and-go by Capa and De Marcos.
With the score still 1-1 as the match entered the final 30 minutes, Blancos coach Zinedine Zidane made moves, replacing Fede Valverde – the only change from the starting 11 that beat Atletico Madrid in last weekend’s derby – with Isco and Vinicius Jr. with Marco Asensio.
Benzema restored the lead for the home team in the 74th minute, assisted by Carvajal, which spurred Athletic to go on attack.
It took a miraculous save by Courtois in stoppage time to deny the tying goal to Mikel Vesga right before Benzema sealed the victory for Real Madrid.
“It was a really important game for us. We’re on the right track. We attack and defend together as a team. When we’re at this level, things turn out well for us,” Benzema said afterward.
The result brings the Blancos to 26 points, the same as Real Sociedad and second-place Atletico Madrid, though the Colchoneros have two games in hand on both rivals.
Athletic are 13th in the LaLiga table with 14 points. EFE