Real Madrid welcomed Athletic Club to the Alfredo di Stefano intent on building on last week’s good run.
Los Blancos enjoyed a stellar seven days that saw them beat Sevilla at the Sanchez-Pizjuan, qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League by seeing off Borussia Monchengladbach and halve their gap to Atletico Madrid by winning the Madrid derby.
Athletic came into the tie without a win in three, sitting 13th in La Liga. The Basque side could have gone level on points with Barcelona had they emerged victorious from the capital.
Madrid, by contrast, were sitting in third before kick-off, and would go level on points with both Atletico and league leaders Real Sociedad should they secure victory.
They did. Toni Kroos opened the scoring for Madrid before Ander Capa got the visitors back on level terms, but a brace from Karim Benzema helped Los Blancos secure a hard-fought 3-1 win.
“We didn’t interpret the fact that we had an additional player very well,” Zinedine Zidane said in comments carried by Diario AS after the final whistle.
“We should have dominated more and stretched the play but in the end it was a good and well-deserved victory.
“From time to time [moments of disconnected play] will happen. You have to respect Athletic’s performance. They believed they could get level and that’s what they did despite having ten men.”
Zidane had special praise for his countryman Benzema.
“For me he’s the best,” Zidane said.
“Because without playing a great game today he scored two goals. He always appears. They’re the great players.”