MADRID ⸺ Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema rescued his side again by scoring two late goals to snatch a 2-1 win at home to Elche in La Liga on Saturday and revive his side’s hopes of catching leaders Atletico Madrid.
The victory lifted Real into second in the standings on 57 points, reducing the gap behind Atletico from eight points to six after the leaders drew 0-0 at Getafe later on.
Real are one point ahead of third-placed Barcelona, who host Huesca on Monday.
Elche took a shock lead just after the hour mark with a bullet header from Dani Calvo which crashed against the bar and over the line, after both sides had strong penalty claims waved away.
Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane threw midfield duo Toni Kroos and Luka Modric on immediately after the goal and the change soon paid off.
Kroos played a short corner to Modric and the Croatian fed Benzema, who barely had to jump to head home in the 73rd minute.
Benzema, who last week struck late to grab a 1-1 draw away to leaders Atletico Madrid, then found the winner in stoppage time with a stunning strike just inside the area, lashing the ball first time in off the far post.
Benzema’s double was all the more impressive as he had been on the wrong end of a hefty challenge from Guido Carrillo moments before his first goal, setting off alarm bells three days before Real’s Champions League last-16 second leg at home to Atalanta.
“This feels great because we believed in what we were doing, we had plenty of chances to score but with patience we managed to turn the game around and it’s a fair result,” said Zidane.
“Elche are a team that gives you very little space and is very strong and it was hard to find a gap. When we went behind we had to be even more patient. This turnaround is very positive for our chances in the league but also in the Champions League.”
Real welcomed back captain Sergio Ramos for the first time since undergoing knee surgery two months ago but Zidane opted to start without Modric and Kroos.
Real controlled the first half without causing Elche too many problems in the box but looked on course for a fourth home defeat in the league this season when Calvo’s thumping header put the struggling visitors in front.
Real felt they should have had a penalty earlier in the second half for a foul on Ramos which was given against the defender.
Elche meanwhile could have been awarded a spot-kick moments before they scored for a foul on Carrillo, who was ruled offside but replays showed he was in fact onside, although the play was not reviewed by officials.
Once Benzema had pulled Real level, they went all out to find a winner.
Casemiro spurned two chances in quick succession while defender Nacho was ideally placed to score from inside the box but blasted his shot at Elche keeper Edgar Badia.
Eden Hazard came off the bench to return for the first time in six months but Real’s record signing had little impact.
Luckily for Zidane’s side, they could rely on the talismanic Benzema, who won the game with his 15th league goal of the season.
“We turned things around with courage,” said match-winner Benzema.
“The second goal was a beautiful strike and won us the three points so I couldn’t be happier.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge; Reuters