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Football Reporting

Barcelona

Benzema 9/10, Modric 8/10 as Real Madrid go joint-top


Real Madrid beat Eibar 3-1 in a thrilling game at Ipurua on Sunday to go level on points with Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga.

Madrid started well and went ahead early, Rodrygo‘s chipped pass finding Karim Benzema who finished past goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic. Luka Modric doubled their lead inside the first 15 minutes as Benzema turned provider, pulling back for the Croatian to finish. Kike Garcia pulled a goal back for the hosts, curling past Thibaut Courtois, before Benzema had another ruled out for offside.

The second half was more of a battle. Rodrygo had a second-half shot saved by Dmitrovic after Toni Kroos‘ through ball, and Yoshinori Muto could have scored with a near-post header. Substitute Marco Asensio curled a free kick just wide and Eibar threatened to equalise before Lucas Vazquez hit them on the counter-attack to score in added time.

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Positives

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Real Madrid’s impressive run of form continues: it’s now four league wins in a row, they are joint-top, and crucially, eight points ahead of Barcelona, albeit having played a game more. Opponents Eibar were no pushovers, either, and had lost just once in nine league games before this, even if all of their wins in that time had come away from home.

Karim Benzema’s glorious run of goalscoring form continues too. He has always been a streaky player — and it’s now 10 goals in his last 10 games. It’s no coincidence that that run has coincided with Madrid’s fortunes changing on the pitch. If Benzema keeps scoring, the team will keep winning.

Negatives

This was much more of a battle than might have been expected when Madrid went 2-0 up after 13 minutes, and the team weren’t able to relax for a second as Eibar battled until the final whistle. Fatigue must be a concern, given the number of players who have featured, twice a week, over the last month. They’ll get a short break over Christmas — with seven days between the Granada match on Dec. 23 and Elche on Dec. 30 — and will be hoping to get there without any further injury problems.

Manager rating out of 10

7 — Zinedine Zidane keeps insisting he hasn’t given up on his rotation policy but his team selections tell a different story. This time he made just two changes to the team that beat Athletic Bilbao in midweek: Casemiro returning from suspension, replacing Federico Valverde, and Rodrygo coming in for Vinicius.

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The team started superbly, just as Zidane would have wanted, and then dug in when Eibar raised their game, although the second half was a struggle at times. His substitutions made sense, especially the introduction of Valverde when Modric tired.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 — Came and missed one first-half corner. There was nothing he could do about Garcia’s wondergoal, beaten at full stretch. Made one good second-half save from Pape Diop.

DF Dani Carvajal, 7 — Wasted a great chance for what would have been a decisive third goal at 2-1 when he broke down the right in space, with options in the middle, but couldn’t beat the first defender. Worked hard otherwise.

DF Raphael Varane, 6 — Now the non-Spanish centre-back with the most appearances for Real Madrid. Faced a lively Muto, and was tested throughout.

DF Sergio Ramos, 7 — At his best and worst in one second-half passage of play when a fantastic interception was followed by a pass straight to the feet of Takashi Inui that could have ended in disaster. Got away with a possible late handball when the ball hit his elbow inside the box. Saved the team with a late recovery.

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DF Ferland Mendy, 7 — Did well in defence up against Inui. Crossed dangerously across the six-yard box before half-time, got forward to find Rodrygo after that, and dealt single-handedly with one second-half Eibar break.

MF Casemiro, 7 — Less eye-catching than Kroos or Modric, but quietly effective at the base of the midfield. Casemiro is a master at buying time for the team when it’s needed by breaking up the game.

MF Toni Kroos, 7 — Unlucky not to pick up a first-half assist with his super ball over the top for Benzema. Showed off with one second-half flick over the head of an opponent. His through ball for Rodrygo was the pass of the match.

MF Luka Modric, 8 — Has been involved, as starter or substitute, in every single game this season without a break, at 35. Some glorious early skill to feint his way past Anaitz Arbilla without even touching the ball. Finished his goal with conviction. Tired later.

FW Lucas Vazquez, 7 — The least impressive of the front three, but still played well. Almost got on the end of Mendy’s first-half cross and had an effort cleared off the line before half-time after beating Dmitrovic. Grabbed a late third goal.

FW Karim Benzema, 9 — Scored again, a day after turning 33. Did just as well to create Madrid’s second, beating a defender and having the presence of mind to pick out Modric. Had another goal, which would have been the best of the lot, ruled out for offside.

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FW Rodrygo, 8 — Much more consistently involved than usual. A marvellous assist for the opening goal, floating the ball over the Eibar defence into exactly the right place for Benzema to run onto. Lost his footing and shot over the bar when found by Mendy in the second half, and later had an effort saved.

Substitutions

FW Marco Asensio, N/R — Came on for Rodrygo and went close with a free kick. Still not a single goal or assist this season.

MF Federico Valverde, N/R — Replaced a tiring Modric when the team needed to dig in and protect their lead.



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