Benzema stars, Real move level on points with Atlético

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BARCELONA, Spain, Dec 21, (AP): Karim Benzema scored one goal and set up another to lead Real Madrid to a 3-1 win at Eibar , keeping the defending champions level on points with Atlético Madrid at the top of the Spanish league. Zinedine Zidane’s side are behind leaders Atlético on goal difference. Atlético have played two fewer games than Madrid.

The city rivals are three points ahead of Real Sociedad and eight points ahead of Barcelona, which are in fifth place behind Villarreal. Benzema opened the scoring in the sixth minute when he controlled an expert pass from Rodrygo before knocking the ball past goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic. The French striker assisted Luka Modric in the 12th after he dribbled around a defender and found the Croatia midfielder arriving unmarked at the edge of the area.

Modric fired a rightfooted strike into the upper part of the net. Eibar stayed true to coach José Mendilibar’s playing style of pressuring high up the field, and what looked like a possible Madrid rout became an entertaining contest. Kike García got Eibar back in the game in the 28th when the striker scored a brilliant strike from outside the area, curling a long shot beyond the reach of Thibaut Courtois and inside the far post. Both attacks continued to create scoring chances but the defenses kept the score from moving until stoppage time.

Moments after Sergio Ramos blocked a chance by Eibar’s Pedro Vigas, an attack at the other end saw Lucas Vázquez beat Dmitrovic to seal Madrid’s fourth win in a row. “Our first 20 minutes were spectacular, we got the ball out well from the back, we moved well, and when these players are playing like this, it looks easy,” Zidane said. “But it is normal that we had our difficulties. This is a tough place to play and against a rivals that never lets up in their pressure.” Eibar remained winless at home in eight matches at Ipurúa Stadium. But as shown by their feisty performance against Madrid, 14th-place Eibar have proven very tough to beat in recent weeks. They entered the match unbeaten in six games, a run in which they conceded only two goals.

For Kike, Eibarare just not the same team at home without their supporters. Spain has not allowed fans into matches since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in March. “We don’t have our people with us. They are our fuel,” García said after his impressive goal failed to end his team’s perplexingly bad record at home. “Last year we were strong at home and had difficulties on the road, now we are missing our fans very much. We hope that this is over soon and things get back to normal.” Roberto Soldado scored two early goals in Granada’s 2-0 win over Real Betis.

The veteran striker converted a penalty earned by Luis Suárez in the 14th before adding a second goal in the 20th. Granada rose to sixth, level with Barcelona on points. The Andalusian club visit Madrid on Wednesday. “We will try to win our next game at Real Madrid,” Soldado said. “We will go for it with everything we’ve got, believing that our hard work and our playing style can let us take the three points.” Brais Méndez netted twice to ensure Celta Vigo maintained their convincing turnaround since Argentine Eduardo Coudet took over the team last month. Their 2-0 win over Alavés was their fourth in a row and lifted them into eighth place. Getafe beat Cádiz 2-0 on the road to end a seven-round winless streak. Juan “Cucho” Hernández dipped a long strike just under the bar to open for Getafe. Nemanja Maksimovic added a second goal late.

Raúl de Tomás scored an eye-popping goal to help Espanyol take the lead of Spain’s second tier. The striker fl ipped the ball over the head of a defender before unleashing a strike from near the middle of the field that went over the Almeria goalkeeper. De Tomás also converted a penalty in the 2-1 win. Long linked to the creation of a more lucrative competition, Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez wants financial disruption caused to soccer by the coronavirus pandemic to spur deep changes to current playing formats. “Nothing will go back to being like before,” Pérez told an online assembly of Real Madrid’s club members. “The pandemic must make us more competitive,” he said.

“We must innovate, discover formulas so that football remains attractive. Real Madrid was there at the beginning of FIFA and the European Cup. Our model now needs a new impulse, and the impact of COVID- 19 has shown that.” Elite clubs, including Madrid, have been pushing for more guaranteed Champions League matches and revenue starting in the 2024-25 season, but UEFA-led talks failed to reach an agreement last year amid opposition from leagues and less wealthy clubs. Pérez also in 2019 formed the World Football Club Association, which has been formulating plans for new competitions of its own. Those proposals only emerged in reports after Pérez met with FIFA President Gianni Infantino. “Everyone is arguing for a remodeling of world football. There is a saturation (of games) and our fans, who are the most important thing we have, suffer,” Pérez said.

“Football reform cannot wait. The biggest clubs in Europe have millions of fans spread across the world. We have the responsibility to fight for this change.” Pérez did not elaborate on what exact changes he would support. The pandemic has shone the spotlight on an economic reality for clubs in top-tier leagues: Millions of fans sitting on sofas and in bars watching games on television trump the thousands of die-hard supporters who have mostly not been able to attend matches.

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