Madrid bounce back after Girona shock as Benzema rewrites record books

MADRID — Karim Benzema scored a first-half hat trick as Real Madrid beat Almeria 4-2 in LaLiga on Saturday.

Benzema put Madrid ahead just five minutes in — Vinicius Junior providing the assist — before adding a second on 17 minutes after Rodrygo‘s outrageous flick beat defender Samuel Costa, and then converting a penalty on 42 minutes when Lucas Vazquez was fouled by Largie Ramazani.

Almeria’s Lazaro pulled a goal back before half-time, but Madrid extended their lead shortly after the break, Rodrygo scoring from distance before Lucas Robertone’s header made it 4-2. Madrid could have added to their tally late on, as Benzema hit the post and Eduardo Camavinga had a goal disallowed for offside.

Rapid reaction

1. Madrid bounce back after Girona shock

Madrid’s pride was stung by Tuesday’s surprise 4-2 defeat at Girona — both the scoreline and the passive nature of their defending — and this was the emphatic response. From kickoff, the team looked determined to prove that what happened at Montilivi was a one-off, and that Madrid will be taking their remaining LaLiga games seriously.

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That attitude was personified by the front three of Benzema, Vinicius and Rodrygo, who delivered a ruthless first-half display of dizzying speed, gasp-inducing skill and razor-sharp finishing. Almeria’s defence didn’t know what had hit them. In midfield, Dani Ceballos, Aurelien Tchouameni and Toni Kroos were first to every ball.

Almeria’s two goals — both defensive lapses — were the only sour note. Yes, Almeria are relegation candidates who have conceded 57 goals in LaLiga this season — only bottom-of-the-table Elche have shipped more — but that didn’t detract from what was a focused, convincing performance. Madrid are back on track ahead of one of the biggest weeks of their season.

2. Goal-scoring records keep falling for Benzema

Another game, another record for Benzema. This hat trick took him to 236 LaLiga goals. He passed Alfredo di Stefano (227) in January and Raul Gonzalez (228) in February; now Hugo Sanchez (234) is the latest Real Madrid legend to be overtaken in the league’s all-time goal-scoring charts. Only three players remain ahead of him: Telmo Zarra, who scored 251 goals for Athletic Club in the 1940s and ’50s, and two names who need no introduction — Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Ignoring the historical dimension, there’s a very current goal-scoring race for Benzema to keep in mind, too. He now has 17 league goals this season, two fewer than Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski, who scored later in the day in Barcelona’s win over Real Betis.

Benzema would love to secure the Pichichi trophy — awarded to LaLiga’s top goal scorer — for another year, having won it for the first time in 2022.

It’s also worth noting that the volume of goals needed to be crowned Pichichi isn’t what it used to be. Messi scored 50 league goals in 2011-12. Ronaldo scored 48 in 2014-15. Luis Suarez scored 40 in 2015-16. Benzema took top spot with 27 goals last season, and with six games left to play, he might not reach that tally this time around.

3. Ceballos leads race to replace Modric

Friday’s news that Luka Modric had suffered a thigh injury came at the worst possible time for Madrid, with a Copa del Rey final against Osasuna to come on May 6 and a Champions League semifinal first leg with Manchester City on May 9. Madrid aren’t definitively ruling Modric out of both those games, but it’s a race against time, and so this match — coupled with Tuesday’s trip to Real Sociedad — will likely serve as auditions for the midfielders hoping to step in for the veteran.

Carlo Ancelotti has identified Ceballos as the most likely candidate who can best approximate Modric’s superlative qualities. This was a persuasive performance. Only Kroos had more touches and completed more passes. Ceballos brings something of Modric’s busy energy and drive, even if there isn’t quite the same end product. With Camavinga doing such an impressive job at left-back, there’s less competition than there might have been, too.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid. A clinical hat trick, even if they weren’t the most difficult goals he’ll ever score.

BEST: Rodrygo, Real Madrid. Provided the two moments of the match with his assist for Benzema’s second goal, and his own strike after half-time.

BEST: Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid. A threat right from the start. Created Benzema’s opener.

WORST: Largie Ramazani, Almeria. Committed an absurd foul to give away a penalty.

WORST: Samuel Costa, Almeria. Was made to look a bit silly by Rodrygo’s trickery.

WORST: Rodrigo Ely, Almeria. Given a torrid time by Benzema.

Highlights and notable moments

That? That assist from Rodrygo? That’s instinct. You can’t teach that.

After the match: What the players/managers said

Rodrygo on his assist: “It was a pass to myself. It was my only way out. It was nice, an assist for Karim.”

Ancelotti: “Vinicius suffered a hit to his knee, but it is nothing serious. He will be ready for the Copa del Rey final.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– Benzema’s first-half hat trick is the third of his career. The first came for Lyon against Metz in 2007, and the second was earlier this month against Real Valladolid.

– All three of Benzema’s hat tricks this season in all competitions have occurred this month: at Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, and against Valladolid and now Almeria.

Up next

Real Madrid: Los Blancos will be in action again on Tuesday, when the Basque Country beckons and a LaLiga fixture at Real Sociedad awaits (4 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).

Almeria: Almeria return to Spain’s south coast for a LaLiga encounter with Elche on Tuesday (1:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+)

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