Real Madrid drop Valencia 3-0 to keep pace with Barça

Madrid, Jun 18 (efe-epa).- Real Madrid kept alive their hopes of overtaking Barcelona for first place in LaLiga with a 3-0 victory here Thursday over Valencia.

The win lifted the Blancos to 62 points, 2 fewer than Barça and 11 ahead of third-place Sevilla. Valencia, with 43 points, are 8th, wedged between Granada and Villarreal.

Karim Benzema had a brace, but the emotional high point of the night for the hosts was Marco Asensio’s goal, which came on his first touch after missing 11 months due to a knee injury.

Valencia’s well-known defensive weaknesses prompted Real Madrid to try their luck even from less-than-ideal positions. Shots from Toni Kroos and Casemiro made no impression and visiting goalkeeper Jasper Cillesen came up with solid save to deny Eden Hazard.

At the other end of the pitch, Valencia’s Rodrigo got behind defender Raphael Varane before letting loose with a strike that hit the post.

Rodrigo went on to find the target on his next effort.

In the 21st minute, a poor clearance by Dani Carvajal left the ball for Valencia’s Carlos Soler, who found Rodrigo at the far post for the tap-in.

The Valencia celebration was cut short when the referee disallowed the goal because Maxi Gomez was in an offside position.

The close call was not enough to spur the Blancos to improve. Carvajal failed in a one-on-one dual with Cillesen and an unmarked Benzema flubbed a header.

Valencia faded in the second half and Real Madrid got better as Hazard and Luka Modric began to string passes together.

Benzema broke the deadlock just after the hour mark with an assist from Hazard. Taking the lead seemed to liberate the hosts and Zidane took advantage of the opportunity to give Asensio some playing time.

No sooner did he step on the pitch in the 74th minute, Asensio took a pass from Ferland Mendy and put it past Cillesen to make it 2-0.

And Asensio wasn’t done, providing a key assist on Benzema’s second goal of the night in the 86th minute.

Earlier Thursday, Deportivo Alaves beat Real Sociedad 2-0 in a Basque derby.

The hosts vaulted over Valladolid, Real Betis and Osasuna to 12th place. With 35 points from 29 matches, Alaves are 10 points clear of the drop zone.

Sociedad, meanwhile, fell to sixth place on 47 points, one less than Getafe and two behind Atletico Madrid in fourth. Though there are nine matches left in the pandemic-interrupted season, the upset loss in Vitoria could prove fatal to the visiting side’s Champions League ambitions.

With just 34 percent possession, Alaves not only outshot the visitors 15-8, they put seven on target to none for Sociedad.

Despite having the ball, Sociedad struggled to get penetration and their first attack came only in the 10th minute, when Mikal Oyarzabal missed the mark with a header off a cross from Adnan Januzaj.

Three minutes later, Lucas Perez forced a stop from Sociedad goalkeeper Alex Remiro.

Alaves kept the Sociedad attackers largely at bay while seeking to make the most of the set pieces that came their way, including a Perez free kick shortly before the break that went over the cross-bar.

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