Benzema braces as Madrid defeat Bilbao 2-1 in virus-stricken game
Karim Benzema scored two quick goals to lead Real Madrid to a 2-1 victory at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday in a Spanish league game missing several players due to coronavirus infections.
Defending champions Atlético Madrid have collapsed in a fourth straight league loss after losing 2-1 to Granada, extending their worst streak in the competition since Diego Simeone took the lead ten years ago .
A total of 12 players between Madrid and Bilbao missed the game after testing positive for COVID-19. This included Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Unai Simón from Bilbao, the goalkeeper for the Spanish national team.
Benzema opened the scoring for the league leaders with a superb strike four minutes into the game at San Mames. He struck again in the seventh for his league-leading 15th goal of the season.
Oihan Sancet fired back for the hosts to close the crazy first 10 minutes of the game.
Iñaki Williams came close to equalizing with half an hour to go, but a sustained defense by Éder Militão held on to take Madrid’s lead to eight points over second-placed Sevilla.
The epidemic in the Madrid squad has given Eden Hazard, Eduardo Camavinga and Nacho Fernández the opportunity to win rare starts.
“I want to stress that the players who hadn’t played much were ready to go, that’s the strength of a team that wants to compete,” said coach Carlo Ancelotti, whose team is entering the winter break. on a 15-game unbeaten streak in all competitions.
“Now rest and get those players who weren’t with us today … I think we can all get them back after the holidays.”
The game came hours after the Spanish league tightened its testing protocols to try to prevent teams from being hit by outbreaks. Besides Modric, Madrid were without David Alaba, Isco Alarcón, Marco Asensio, Rodrygo, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and substitute goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. Besides Simón, Bilbao was deprived of Iñigo Martínez, Jokin Ezkieta and Alex Berenguer.
Benzema dazzled with his first goal from the area. The French forward stunned Bilbao when he used a touch to send a pass from coiled Toni Kroos into the far corner of the net.
“What a forward, what a captain, what a player,” said Ancelotti.
Benzema’s second came after a bad touch from Bilbao defender Unai Nuñez gave him the ball with only Simón’s replacement Julen Agirrezabala to beat.
“I love this type of football in a big stadium like this, it makes me happy, but it makes me even happier to beat this good team,” said Benzema, who was applauded by the Bilbao crowd when ‘he was replaced late.
Sancet shoots from the edge of the box to send the ball off the post.
“We had our chance to equalize,” said Bilbao coach Marcelino García. “I’m proud of the way we played against a great league leader.”
Atlético had lost no more than two consecutive league games since Simeone became their coach in December 2011. This month he lost to Mallorca, Real Madrid and Sevilla before his loss to Granada.
Atlético got off to a good start with a goal from João Félix just three minutes after kick-off.
Darwin Machís then equalized in the 18th and Jorge Molina scored on a cross from Granada striker Luis Suárez to complete the comeback in the 61st.
Atlético remained in fifth place, 17 points behind Madrid.
“We don’t get the wins like we used to,” Simeone said. “Many times we have won games that we didn’t deserve to win, now we are losing games that we deserved to win… Lack of focus in small details is costing us games. “
Molina had just played a record-breaking game on Sunday when he became the oldest player in Europe’s top five leagues to score a hat trick at 39, 241 days old in a 4-1 win over Mallorca.
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