Karim Benzema scored a first-half hat-trick as Real Madrid beat Almeria 4-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu to move within eight points of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga.
After Girona and Rayo Vallecano dealt the top two surprise midweek defeats, Madrid had the chance to cut Barca’s lead – at least temporarily before the Blaugrana face Real Betis.
Benzema ensured they seized that opportunity in emphatic fashion, benefitting from excellent assists from Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo before stroking home a third from the penalty spot.
Lazaro and Lucas Robertone netted either side of a long-range fourth from Rodrygo as Almeria fought gallantly, but Madrid were ultimately deserved winners.
Benzema was heavily involved from the off and had already tested Fernando Martinez by the time he opened the scoring five minutes in, tapping home after Vinicius darted down the left to cross with the outside of his boot.
His second, arriving after 17 minutes, owed much to Rodrygo, who turned Samu Costa with a brilliant piece of skill before teeing up Benzema to sweep home.
Largie Ramazani headed wide as Almeria sought a response, but the winger was then at fault as Benzema clinched his hat-trick, tripping Lucas Vazquez to allow the Frenchman to convert from the spot.
Almeria clawed one back on the stroke of half-time, Lazaro tapping in Ramazani’s low cross from the left.
But any hopes of a comeback were extinguished within three minutes of the restart, when Rodrygo rifled into the top-right corner after finding space on the edge of the area.
Almeria hit back again when substitute Robertone headed past Thibaut Courtois, but Madrid remained in control – twice going close to a fifth when Benzema shot against the post and Eduardo Camavinga had a header ruled offside.
Real Madrid player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Thibaut Courtois – 5/10 – Hardly worked, though will be annoyed not to have kept a clean sheet.
RB: Lucas Vazquez – 5/10 – Guilty of some errant passing on occasion.
CB: Eder Militao – 7/10 – His excellent range of passing helped lead to the opener.
CB: Antonio Rudiger – 6/10 – Harshly judged to have been too aggressive on occasion.
LB: Eduardo Camavinga – 7/10 – Hard to believe that Camavinga doesn’t enjoy playing at left-back when he turns in such fine performances.
DM: Aurelien Tchouameni – 7/10 – Kept play ticking in the middle of the park.
CM: Dani Ceballos – 7/10 – Another game in which you understand why Real Madrid fans are so keen for the midfielder to stay.
CM: Toni Kroos – 6/10 – The metronome for the most part but a stray pass gave Almeria a glimmer of hope in the second half.
RW: Rodrygo – 9/10 – Whether on the wing or in-field, Rodrygo tormented Almeria all evening long.
CF: Karim Benzema – 10/10 – Now only one goal behind Robert Lewandowski in the race for La Liga’s Golden Boot.
LW: Vinicius Junior – 8/10 – Hugged the touchline and was given quite a bruising by Almeria simply because he’s so, so good.
Nacho Fernandez (72′ for Kroos) – 5/10
Marco Asensio (72′ for Rodrygo) – 5/10
Danu Carvajal (82′ for Vinicius) – N/A
Carlo Ancelotti – 7/10 – Real Madrid were dominant but that creeping complacency was also present.
Almeria player ratings (4-5-1)
GK: Fernando Martinez (5); RB: Houboulang Mendes (3), CB: Juan Brandariz (5), CB: Rodrigo Ely (5), LB: Sergio Akieme (5); RM: Arnau Puigmai (5), CM: Francisco Portillo (6), CM: Cesar de la Hoz (5), CM: Samu (4), LM: Largie Ramazani (5); CF: Lazaro (7)
SUBS: Lucas Robertone (7), Inigo Eguaras (5), Luis Suarez (5), Gonzalo Molero (N/A), Alex Centelles (N/A)
Player of the match – Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
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