Karim Benzema scored a first-half hat trick as Real Madrid dismantled Real Valladolid 6-0 in LaLiga on Sunday at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Rodrygo broke the deadlock after 20 minutes with a good finish from inside the area before Benzema took centre-stage. The Frenchman's first goal came after good work from Vinicius Junior, the second was a smart effort from the edge of the box and he completed a seven-minute treble with an acrobatic finish to turn home Rodrygo's cross.
Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez completed the rout late on but Madrid remain 12 points behind league leaders Barcelona, who won at Elche on Sunday, although the win does give them a timely boost going into Wednesday's Copa del Rey semifinal Clasico at Camp Nou (stream LIVE at 2:55 p.m. ET on ESPN+ in the U.S..)
1. LaLiga keeping Madrid sharp for cup challenges
Madrid's loss to Barca before the international break all but ended the title race in Spain and left questions about how Carlo Ancelotti's side would approach the run-in in LaLiga, even if the Italian coach insisted they would fight until the end. Against Valladolid, that proved true.
While hauling Barca in may no longer be seen as a possibility, Madrid have other reasons to stay sharp. They travel to their Clasico rivals on Wednesday for the second leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal trailing 1-0 from the first leg. They also have Chelsea to come in the quarterfinal of the Champions League.
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Ancelotti, therefore, will have been delighted to see his attackers in fine fettle. Rodrygo took his goal really well, ending a 16-game drought in LaLiga, before setting up Benzema for his hat-trick goal and Asensio for the fifth. The Brazilian also hit the post and had a second strike disallowed for an earlier handball by Vinicius, who, despite not scoring, impressed again as he set up two of Benzema's goals.
There was even time to give Eden Hazard some minutes. The Belgian had not played for Madrid since Jan. 3 in the Copa del Rey -- and since Sept. 11 in LaLiga -- but he replaced Benzema in the second half and laid on the final goal for Vazquez in stoppage time.
2. Benzema peaking at the right time
In many ways, given the standards he has set throughout his career at Madrid, especially since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, it has been a low-key campaign for Benzema, who has struggled with injuries and form. However, there are some signs he is now creeping into his best form ahead of the final stretch of the season -- which will not have gone unnoticed at Barca or Chelsea.
All three of his goals here were good. The first was a stooping header at the far post after a perfect cross from Vinicius. He then glided across the edge of the boss before producing an immaculate finish into the top corner from 18 yards. His third was perhaps the pick of the three, an overhead kick from close range which arrived just six minutes and 30 second after his first goal.
It takes his tally to 22 for the season, making him the first player to score more than 20 goals in 11 different seasons for Madrid. Sixteen of those goals have come since the World Cup -- only Erling Haaland and Marcus Rashford have scored more in that time (both 19).
3. Valladolid minds elsewhere once they went behind
Valladolid actually started well at the Bernabeu and could have taken the lead when Roque Mesa struck the woodwork early on. There were even signs of some discontent among the home fans as the visitors looked to cause a major upset. Once Rodrygo struck, though, they lost their way.
As good as Benzema's three goals were, the defending was just as bad. The Frenchman dummied two defenders far too easily for his second goal and managed to clinch his hat trick from close range despite having a Valladolid player either side of him. It meant that the second half was little more than a training game.
Pacheta's side must have been thinking about next weekend when they host Mallorca in a more winnable match. They need three points. This defeat leaves them in the thick of the relegation battle, just one point clear of the bottom three with 11 games to go.
Best and worst performers
Karim Benzema, Real Madrid: It was not just the fact that he scored a hat trick but the quality of all three goals.
Rodrygo, Real Madrid: Scored one, set up two and on another day would have scored and created more.
Vincius Junior, Real Madrid: Edges out Asensio for the fact that he frightened the life out of Valladolid every time he got on the ball.
Ivan Fresneda, Real Valladolid: One of the most highly rated right-backs in LaLiga but Vinicius showed he still has a lot to work on.
Jawad El Yamiq, Real Valladolid: Never got a grip on when or where Benzema was going to pop up and defended with a lack of intensity.
Joaquin Fernandez, Real Valladolid: Like Yamiq, his performance was way below his usual standards, regardless of the opposition.
Highlights and notable moments
Rodrygo opened the scoring for Madrid by rounding a fine move from back to front fromt he home side.
REAL MADRID ON THE COUNTER 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/ngZN6QqOOT— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 2, 2023
But then Benzema went into overdrive, scoring a first-half hat trick that took seven minutes from start to finish. His second was a fierce strike from the edge of the area.
BENZEMA BRACE! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/w01CuETxsi— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 2, 2023
After the match: What the Players/managers said
Postmatch quotes will appear here...
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Rodrygo ended a streak of 16 games without scoring in LaLiga, the third longest of his career. His longest barren run lasted 26 games between 2021 and 2022.
The opening goal was also Rodrygo's first since the FIFA Club World Cup semifinal on Feb. 8, ending a run of 10 games without a goal with club and country.
Karim Benzema's first goals, Madrid's second, was the first header he has scored for them all season (16 off the right foot, 4 off the left.)
Benzema scored the fastest hat trick by a Real Madrid player since Cristiano Ronaldo scored his third goal against Espanyol in in September 2015 at 19 minutes, 28 seconds. Benzema scored his third against Valladolid at 35:08.
This was Benzema's fourth career hat trick in LaLiga, making him the 80th player to score four or more hat tricks in the Spanish top flight. In 880 senior career matches for Lyon, Madrid and France, he has never scored four goals in one match.
Benzema is now one goal away from levelling Real Madrid great Hugo Sanchez's haul of 234 LaLiga goals to go joint-fourth in the league's all-time goal charts.
Eden Hazard made his first LaLiga appearance since Sept. 11, 2022, 204 days ago. This was just his 5th LaLiga game played in the 2022-23 season, and he has not scored in the league since May 2021.
Real Madrid: It's the final Clasico of the season on Wednesday, when Madrid travel to Barcelona for the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal (stream LIVE at 2:55 p.m. ET on ESPN+ in the U.S.,) before they host Villarreal in LaLiga on Saturday.
Real Valladolid: The battle against relegation continues with the visit of Mallorca to the Estadio JJose Zorrilla next Sunday, before Valladolid travel to Villarreal on April 15.