(Reuters) -Karim Benzema scored two goals in the opening seven minutes to send leaders Real Madrid eight points clear at the top of LaLiga with a 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.
Real, who were missing eight players due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the club as well as suspended midfielder Casemiro, stretched their unbeaten run to 15 matches in all competitions as they reached the mid-season break with 46 points. They are eight points clear of Sevilla and 13 ahead of third-placed Betis. Athletic remain 10th with 24 points.
Benzema broke the 400-goal mark in his professional career with a stunning strike from just outside the box in the fourth minute before adding another just three minutes later when an Athletic defender missed a clearance.
Oihan Sancet stopped Real’s momentum with a sensational goal in the 10th minute. It was the first goal conceded by Real after five successive clean sheets in all competitions.
The hosts, who were also missing four player due to COVID-19, dominated most of the second half but Real held on to secure all three points.
“It was a complete game from our team with players that didn’t have many opportunities before and that showed the grit and will from a group that are willing to compete in every competition,” coach Carlo Ancelotti told reporters.
He also praised Benzema for his performance.
“He is a top player in the world. Just amazing.”
The French striker was given a standing ovation from Athletic fans when he was substituted late in the second half.
“I like this type of soccer, playing in this stadium, this environment. I’m happy. This win in this place is very important for us.” Benzema told reporters.
“We played well, suffered a little like great teams do. My first goal? It was good but better was scoring because it gave us confidence to go on and score the second right away.”
With the likes of Luka Modric, Casemiro, Rodrygo, Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale all missing, it handed Eden Hazard a chance to prove his worth to the team.
He made his second consecutive start after being out from the starting eleven for three months. The Belgium forward quickly found his stride to lead most of Real’s attacking moves.
(Reporting by Fernando Kallas in Madrid, editing by Pritha Sarkar)