LaLiga: Karim Benzema scores twice to lead Real Madrid to 3-1 win over 10-man Athletic Bilbao

Karim Benzema of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his sides second goal during the La Liga Santander match between Real Madrid and Athletic Club at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on December 15, 2020 in Madrid, Spain.

Barcelona: Karim Benzema scored two late goals to give Real Madrid a 3-1 win over 10-man Athletic Bilbao, helping lift his team level on points with the front-runners of the Spanish league on Tuesday.

Bilbao proved to be tough opponent at Alfredo Di Stéfano stadium despite playing most of the match with only 10 men. But when the Basque Country team was threatening to at least salvage a point, Benzema scored his team-high ninth and 10th goals of the season.

“For me (Benzema) is the best because without playing a great game, he scored two goals,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said about his striker. “He always appears when we need him. That is a sign of a great player.”

Madrid was in third place behind league leader Real Sociedad and second-place Atlético Madrid on overall goal difference. Atlético has two more games in hand to play.

Bilbao lost RaĂșl GarcĂ­a in the 14th minute after the forward earned his second yellow card for a stomping the foot of Toni Kroos during a tackle.

Kroos put Madrid ahead on the last kick of the first half. The Germany midfielder rifled in a pass from VinĂ­cius JĂșnior from outside the area between the post and Spain goalkeeper Unai SimĂłn.

Bilbao compensated with solid team defending and pressed for an equalizer, which it found on the counterattack in the 53rd.

Right back Ander Capa exchanged passes with Óscar de Marcos before beating Thibaut Courtois by finishing off his first shot that the Madrid keeper knocked back to him.

Zidane sent on Marco Asensio and Francisco “Isco” AlarcĂłn to spark his languishing attack. But it fell to right back Dani Carvajal to lob in a cross for Benzema to head home for the 75th-minute winner.

Benzema added another goal in stoppage time moments after Courtois saved a shot by Mikel Vesga that would have snatched a draw.

“Courtois won the match with that save,” said De Marcos, whose Bilbao was left in 13th place.

Bilbao came close to getting an early goal when Iñaki Williams had a clear scoring chance in the 13th. Carvajal, however, pushed him in the back enough to knock him down and disrupt his shot attempt, sending the ball wide. Referee Gil Manzano did not call it a foul. Seconds later, Manzano sent off García with his second booking.

Madrid has won four matches in a row, three in La Liga and one in the Champions League.

“We are attacking together, defending together like a team. When we play like this, things go well,” Benezma said.

Copa del Rey 

Sevilla and three other top-flight sides avoided any surprises in the first round of the Copa del Rey for teams from the first two divisions.

Sevilla won 3-0 at Ciudad de Lucena, Osasuna routed Tomares 6-0, and Valladolid beat Cantolagua 5-0.

Only Huesca had a close brush with an early exit and needed three goals from Rafa Mir to win 3-2 at fourth-tier side Marchamalo.

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