Goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio gave Real Madrid a 2-0 win over Alaves on Friday to go four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with three games to go.
Alaves hit the bar with just three minutes played and Raphael Varane cleared the follow-up off the line before Madrid took the lead with another penalty, their third consecutive goal scored from the spot. Ferland Mendy was caught just inside the box and with Sergio Ramos suspended, Benzema converted. The French striker turned provider in the second half, found by Rodrgyo and unselfishly squaring for Asensio to double Madrid's lead, with a goal that was initially wrongly ruled out for offside.
After one early scare, Real Madrid dominated here and the result -- in a game that pitted the best team in La Liga since the restart against the worst -- never looked in doubt. There is a feeling of inevitability about their title bid now. Key players were missing in defence and Eden Hazard was only fit enough to start on the bench, but this team is resourceful and resilient.
Of Madrid's eight wins in this final stretch, they have kept clean sheets in six of them. Another noticeable trend has been the contribution of Madrid's defenders in attack, though. The penalty was their third in a row won by a defender -- Dani Carvajal at Espanyol, Marcelo against Getafe and Mendy here -- bursting into the opposition box and drawing a foul.
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There were some signs of defensive fragility -- both early in the game and later on -- when the absence of regular starters like Ramos and Carvajal was felt. There were nervous moments when Benzema appeared to pick up a neck injury just before half-time, too. Otherwise, this was an evening that went entirely to plan.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Zinedine Zidane made four changes to the team that beat Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, three of them enforced. With Ramos and Carvajal suspended and Marcelo injured, the coach had little choice. A makeshift defence saw Lucas Vazquez fill in at right-back, Mendy at left-back and Eder Militao partner Varane -- and they didn't concede a goal. Zidane's changes -- bringing on Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde, two players who are always full of energy, before giving a back-from-injury Hazard a run out late on -- made sense too.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Made important interventions, saving from Oliver Burke in the first half and Joselu in the second, without needing to do anything spectacular. Courtois will deservedly win the Zamora trophy for La Liga's best goalkeeper this season.
DF Lucas Vazquez, 7 -- Has played full-back before and has the characteristics to do the job. Lucas gives Madrid an extra option in attack, but was let down by his final ball here. A poor first-half cross was followed by an awful mis-control to pass up an excellent second-half chance.
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DF Raphael Varane, 7 -- One critical early intervention, clearing off the line after Joselu's header rattled the bar. Led the defence well with Ramos absent and wore the captain's armband when Benzema went off.
DF Eder Militao, 7 -- Doesn't always convince, although his qualities are evident. A superbly timed challenge denied Lucas Perez early on. Beaten far too easily by Burke late in the first half.
DF Ferland Mendy, 8 -- Got forward frequently, providing one early cross before a clever one-two with Benzema opened up the Alaves defence. Mendy has a great engine and he's getting better and better. There is much more to come.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Worked hard but didn't need to be at his best against this Alaves midfield. One wild second-half shot well off target.
MF Toni Kroos, 8 -- Back in the team after being rested in Bilbao and played well. Kroos' understated consistency has been an underrated factor in Madrid's winning run.
Karim Benzema scored one and set up anther in Real Madrid's 2-0 win over Alaves. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images
MF Luka Modric, 8 -- Another impressive, all-action performance from the veteran before getting a rest with 20 minutes to go.
FW Marco Asensio, 8 -- Asensio's second start in a row for the first time since returning from injury. Getting back to his best. Scored to double Madrid's lead and looked dangerous in the second half before being substituted.
FW Rodrygo, 8 -- Has started 11 league games now in a successful debut season. Not as flashy as Vinicius, but offers more end product. His pace troubled Alaves on the left. Played a lovely through ball for Benzema ahead of Madrid's second, and could have scored more than once.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- Scored the penalty to take his tally to 18 league goals this season. Involved in so much of Real Madrid's build-up play, the attack revolves around him. Did the right thing in passing for Asensio to score, and could have scored another himself later on.
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FW Vinicius Junior, N/R -- Replaced Asensio. Almost got in behind in added time, but flagged offside.
MF Federico Valverde, N/R -- The Uruguayan came on for Modric. Still looking for form.
MF Isco, N/R -- Made the biggest impression of the substitutes, having a fierce shot saved by Roberto Jimenez.
FW Eden Hazard, N/R -- Played the last 10 minutes on his return from injury.
FW Brahim Diaz, N/R -- Briefly involved in added time.