Karim Benzema's hat trick paces Real Madrid in comfortable win over Athletic Bilbao
Karim Benzema was once again Real Madrid's matchwinner with a hat trick in Sunday afternoon's straightforward 3-0 La Liga victory against Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Benzema continued his amazing run of form -- the Frenchman has now scored each of Madrid's past eight goals (across their past five game). Jesus Vallejo looked assured and confident in a rare start at centre-back.
Absolutely nothing happened in the first half, as Benzema's opener in the 47th minute was Madrid's first attempt on target, and their reliance on one player to score all their goals is even more obvious than in past seasons. A certain nastiness in the Bernabeu atmosphere with substitute Gareth Bale paying for the general unhappiness at how the season has gone.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Zinedine Zidane keeps saying Madrid "must play better" but the message is not really getting across with everyone at the club (Benzema aside). The coach's half-time talks do seem to be working though, as this was third successive game in which they have scored almost immediately after the break.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
DF Dani Carvajal, 7 -- Among the more vigorous of Madrid's players during the very lethargic first half, he looks back towards full sharpness now after a recent injury absence.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 -- A more focused performance than of late from Varane as Madrid kept their first clean sheet since Zidane's return as coach six games ago.
DF Jesus Vallejo, 8 -- Easter Sunday rebirth for Vallejo, who confidently handled Athletic's in-form Williams on his first La Liga start in almost a year, especially when racing back to deny the Basque centre-forward a tap-in just moments before Benzema opened the scoring.
DF Marcelo, 7 -- Madrid captain in Sergio Ramos' absence, Marcelo spent much of the game around the Athletic box, with the visitors' limited attacking intentions meaning they never exposed the space left behind.
MF Luka Modric, 7 -- Unable to get any rhythm going against Athletic's high energy pressing, although his ability shone at times with some excellent long-range passing. Took the corner which Athletic goalkeeper Iago Herrerin missed as Benzema nodded in Madrid's second.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Up for the physical battle with ex-Atletico Madrid midfielder Raul Garcia, and has rediscovered his very useful knack of getting away with numerous tactical fouls without being booked.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- Up to 30 goals in all competitions for the season -- 11 of them headers -- and head and shoulders above everyone else at Bernabeu this year. Among the very few players sure of a central place in Zidane's plans going forward.
FW Marco Asensio, 7 -- Began the game looking low on confidence and was often unsure of what option to take. His belief grew after he provided an excellent cross for Benzema's headed opener.
MF Isco, 6 -- Unable to get the ball out of his feet quick enough when presented with a late chance by fellow replacement Brahim Diaz.
FW Gareth Bale, 7 -- The unpopular Welsh Galactico was continuously whistled even as he won the corner for Madrid's second goal, and unselfishly teed up Benzema to chip into empty net to complete his hat trick.
FW Brahim Diaz, 7 -- Livened things up considerably in a late showing off the bench, with one lovely piece