Karim Benzema, Real Madrid understandably rusty but nab win

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6:02 PM ET

  • Alex KirklandESPN FC

Real Madrid secured a 2-0 win at Real Valladolid as Karim Benzema scored two late goals including a penalty to move them a point clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga on Friday.

Ballon d’Or winner Benzema returned to the starting lineup after missing the World Cup for France, having suffered a thigh injury the day before the start of the tournament.

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Real were awarded a penalty in the 83rd minute after a handball against Javi Sanchez, with Benzema converting the penalty.

Benzema doubled Madrid’s lead in stoppage time after an assist from substitute Eduardo Camavinga.

JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Postmatch quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures

Rapid reaction

1. Benzema’s brace a start in proving himself once again

If Real Madrid are to beat Barcelona to the LaLiga title they’ll need Karim Benzema on top form, something we haven’t seen so far this season. His performance at Valladolid on Friday was a slow-burning start to putting that right. This wasn’t the Ballon d’Or winner at his highest level — far from it — but when the final whistle went, it was his two goals that gave Madrid all three points, and sent them top of the table with Barca to play on Saturday.

2 Related

After being sent home by France before the World Cup began, the hope was that Benzema’s extra time on the training ground at Valdebebas — combined with the burning desire to remind everyone why he was named the world’s best player two months ago — would see him finally firing on all cylinders after a stop-start, injury hit disappointment of a season. That might have been wishful thinking, and in the first half Benzema looked like a player trying to find himself. His 17th minute shot, skied over the bar after Vinicius’ low effort was saved by Jordi Masip, was the kind of opportunity that he really should be burying.

Patience with Benzema should be endless though — his sky-high performance levels over the last few years have earned him that right — and his coolly dispatched second-half penalty, followed by another composed finish six minutes later, proved invaluable for Madrid on the night. They’ll be hoping it’s a sign of things to come.

2. Madrid aren’t up to speed yet after World Cup break

After 50 days away, it was always unlikely that Madrid would be instantly back to their best. While most teams had Copa del Rey ties last week to help warm up for the return of LaLiga, Madrid — along with fellow Supercopa contenders Barca, Real Betis and Valencia — have had no taste of competitive football since mid-November, with two behind-closed-doors friendlies against Leganes and Getafe their only opportunities to experience anything close to match conditions.

The result could be seen for much of the game against Valladolid. Yes, Madrid should have had a penalty for defender Javi Sanchez’s handball, and Benzema launched his first-half chance to take the lead over the bar, but the home side had their moments too, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois at full stretch to prevent midfielder Alvaro Aguado from making it 1-0. In the second half, Madrid created few clear chances, with just as much danger coming from Valladolid at the other end, until the 83rd minute penalty converted by Benzema.

There’s plenty of room for improvement, and that should come with game time, with a hectic schedule involving LaLiga, the Copa del Rey, the Supercopa and the Club World Cup over the next two months.

3. Asensio, Ceballos fail to make case for new contracts

Games like this — with teammates Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga and Luka Modric only just back from featuring in the latter stages of the World Cup — are exactly the kind of occasions that fringe players such as Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio should be taking advantage of if they want to convince the club to offer them new contracts, with their current deals due to expire at the end of the season.

Both players should have enough talent and experience to be able to dominate a fixture like this — they would be certain starters for most teams in LaLiga — but once again, offered frustratingly little. Both were involved in Madrid’s first-half penalty appeal but faded fast and were substituted long before the end.

They’ll need to offer substantially more to persuade the club that they have something to offer beyond next summer.

Player ratings

Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois 8; Dani Carvajal 6, Antonio Rudiger 7, David Alaba 6, Ferland Mendy 6; Toni Kroos 7, Dani Ceballos 6, Fede Valverde 7; Marco Asensio 6, Vinicius Junior 7, Karim Benzema 8.
Subs: Rodrygo Goes 6, Lucas Vazquez 7, Eduardo Camavinga 8, Luka Modric 6, Aurelien Tchouameni 6.

Real Valladolid: Jordi Masip 8; Ivan Fresneda 7, Joaquin Fernandez 6, Javi Sanchez 5, Sergio Escudero 6; Monchu 6, Roque Mesa 7, Alvaro Aguado 6; Ivan Sanchez 6, Oscar Plano 7, Sergio Leon 5.
Subs: Gonzalo Plata 6, Kike Perez 6, Luis Perez 6, Kenedy 6, Shon Weissman 5.

Best and worst performers

Best performer: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid.
It wasn’t his best performance, but you can’t argue with his two goals.

Worst performer: Javi Sanchez, Real Valladolid.
Got away with one handball inside the penalty area, only to give away another later on. It wasn’t the best night for the Real Madrid youth product.

Highlights and notable moments

Prior to the match, the teams paid homage to Pele, who died on Monday at age 82.

Real Madrid honor Pelé before kickoff ❤️?? pic.twitter.com/4jo1WyzhUl

— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 30, 2022

Vinicius looks on from the field during the moment, while Ronaldo (majority shareholder of Real Valladolid) looks on from the stands.

After the match: What the players/managers said

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, on Karim Benzema’s game: “It will be good for him, he looked good to me before this game, we knew he’d be important today. He looks very motivated and confident. In this second part of the season we’ll see a different Karim to in the first part.”

Real Madrid keeper Thibault Courtois, on the clean sheet: “The clean sheet was good for us today. In other games if you’re winning 3-0, of course you want it, but I’d rather win 3-1 or 3-2 than a 0-0. Today it looked like being a draw for a long time, there were some good saves from both goalkeepers.”

Ancelotti, on Courtois’ performance: “It was a difficult game against an opponent who got into the game little by little. After the first half, when we did well, Valladolid played well and it was a competitive game. We didn’t defend well, the team wasn’t compact, but in this difficult situation we come away with three points, with a great game from Courtois, a great game from Benzema, so we end an unforgettable year well. We have players in different conditions and little by little we have to get them all into good condition.”

Courtois, on the handball penalty decision: “It’s a bit strange, but in the end, the handballs, even in the World Cup we didn’t understand what’s handball and what isn’t. I think that one was clear, but it’s unfortunate for Javi, it’s high and he didn’t see the ball. They’re stupid penalties but they’re penalties.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– It was Karim Benzema’s second brace on the season and first time since Aug. 28 against Espanyol.

Up next

Real Madrid: A Copa del Rey match against fourth-tier side Cacereno on Jan. 3 before a visit to Villarreal in LaLiga action on Jan. 7.

Real Valladolid: Against second-division side Alaves in a Copa del Rey action on Jan. 4, and then off to Mallorca on Jan. 7 in league play.