The Red Devils had lost to Brighton last weekend
Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio inflicted the latest blow on Atletico Madrid’s title defence after leading Real Madrid to a 2-0 win Sunday, to keep their team comfortably at the top of the Spanish league.
Vinicius Junior again proved to be the difference for Madrid, setting up Benzema and Asensio for goals in each half of the Spanish capital derby.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico entered the Santiago Bernabeu needing a win to rekindle their hopes of getting back in the title race, seven months after they beat out Madrid and Barcelona in a thrilling finish to the 2020-21 season.
But the commanding win by Carlo Ancelotti’s side opened a 13-point gap for Madrid over fourth-place Atletico. There is still more than half the season left, but the chances of Simeone’s team repeating as champion are fading fast.
The leading threats to Madrid are now the pair of rivals from Seville. Sevilla are second at eight points back, followed by Real Betis nine points adrift of Madrid.
Barcelona, the team that traditionally shares the majority of La Liga titles with Madrid, suffered another setback in their post-Messi era. A 2-2 draw at Osasuna left them in eighth place, some 18 points behind Madrid. Barcelona have long known that a fourth-place finish to secure a berth in the Champions League is their realistic goal this season.
Benzema put Madrid on their way to a 10th straight victory overall in the 16th minute after Luka Modric intercepted a ball to start a counterattack.
Vinicius set up Benzema by stretching Atletico’s defence with a run down the right before finding his unmarked striker with a cross. Benzema did the rest with a superb sweep of his right leg to drive the ball past Jan Oblak and into the corner of the net for his league-leading 13th goal.
Vinicius, the league’s breakout player, forced Oblak to make a one-handed save to parry a chip shot shortly after Antoine Griezmann generated Atletico’s only shot on target of the first half. Griezmann’s curving free kick in the 35th was saved by Thibaut Courtois.
Benzema, who was doubtful after missing Madrid’s last match due to a leg injury, was substituted by Luka Jovic at half-time.
Atletico improved after Simeone sent on Joao Felix and Thomas Lemar for Griezmann and Yannick Carrasco for the second half. But another counterattack driven by Vinicius settled the contest when the Brazilian found Asensio all alone to rifle the ball just inside the post in the 57th.
Luis Suarez, also doubtful due to injury, played the final half hour for Atletico.
TEENAGERS’ GOALS NOT ENOUGH
Goals from Barcelona’s latest teenage talents weren’t enough to save Xavi Hernandez’s side from another letdown.
Barcelona were leading Osasuna 2-1 after 19-year-olds Nico Gonzalez and Abde Ezzalzouli scored their first goals since joining the team from the club’s youth squads this season.
Nico received a pass from Gavi Paez, a player two years his junior, to put Barcelona ahead in the 12th at El Sadar Stadium. Osasuna’s David Garcia levelled with a header two minutes later. Abde scored from a cross from Ousmane Dembele in the 49th.
But substitute Chimy Avila pulled Osasuna level with four minutes to go with a long-range strike that went in after touching Samuel Umtiti, who played his first minutes this season for Barcelona as a surprise inclusion in Xavi’s starting line-up.
Nico, Abde and Gavi form part of a group of players under 20 years old, along with the injured Pedri Gonzalez, which is providing the only bright side to a dismal campaign for Barcelona.
“Luckily we have our young players because they are holding the team up. They are making an extraordinary effort,” Xavi said. “We have to keep growing, but it is going to be difficult to get out of this rut. We need a favorable result. We had this victory and let it get away.”
The draw at Osasuna came after back-to-back defeats for Barcelona, who have only won once on the road in the league and will miss the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time in 17 years.
Xavi gave a debut to 22-year-old Ferran Jutgla in the final minutes.
Third-place Betis maintained their impressive run after routing Real Sociedad 4-0, who remained fifth after a third consecutive loss.
Manuel Pellegrini’s high-paced attack have won four in a row in the league by a combined score of 11-1.
Left back Alex Moreno scored twice and assisted Juanmi Jimenez for the striker to net his 10th league goal of the season and his sixth in the last four games. Nabil Fekir chipped in with another goal.
Villarreal beat Rayo Vallecano 2-0 at home. — AP
The Red Devils had lost to Brighton last weekend
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