Marco Asensio was delighted his hard work paid off as he made a stunning return from injury in Real Madrid's 3-0 win over Valencia.

Making his comeback from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), Asensio scored seconds after coming on and then set up Karim Benzema's sealer at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on Thursday.

Asensio, 24, was pleased to be back, with the appearance his first competitive club outing since May last year.

"I really wanted to return. It has been many months of hard work," the midfielder told Movistar.

"I am very happy to play, to score and for the team's victory."

On his goal, Asensio added: "A lot of excitement and satisfaction, because there is a lot of work behind this. I am in the final stretch of the season."

Asensio also set up Benzema for the striker to complete his brace, the Frenchman's first touch setting up a spectacular volleyed finish.

Spain international Asensio lauded Benzema, who became Madrid's fifth all-time top goalscorer with 243, surpassing Ferenc Puskas (242).

"It was a great goal. He has made a great control and in general we have made a great match," he said.

Madrid's win saw them climb back to within two points of rivals and leaders Barcelona with nine games left to play.

"We have nine finals left that we have to win," Asensio said.

"We are now focusing on the Real Sociedad match [on Sunday], which is the objective we have in mind."

Marco Asensio marked his long-awaited return by scoring with his first touch and Karim Benzema netted twice as Real Madrid cruised to a 3-0 win over Valencia on Thursday.

The Spain international has not kicked a ball in anger this season after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury last July and only regained fitness during LaLiga's suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Asensio made up for lost time by showing sublime technique to double Madrid's lead in the second half of the contest at Madrid Castilla's Alfredo Di Stefano stadium.

Karim Benzema had opened the scoring from a wonderful team move just after the hour and rounded things off with a stunning second as Zinedine Zidane's men deservedly earned a win that moves them back to within two points of leaders Barcelona, with Valencia's disappointment compounded by a late red card for Lee Kang-in.

Toni Kroos and Eden Hazard had squandered presentable early chances when teed up by Benzema, the latter shooting straight at Jasper Cillessen when one-on-one.

Rodrigo Moreno almost made Madrid pay but his shot across goal was brilliantly tipped onto the left-hand post by Thibaut Courtois.

Rodrigo slotted home after 21 minutes, only for VAR spot an offside against Maxi Gomez, who deflected Carlos Soler's pass into his team-mate's path.

Both goalkeepers were busy again before the break, Cillessen denying Dani Carvajal after a jinking run and Courtois parrying away Geoffrey Kondogbia's long-range effort.

Madrid were completely in control after the restart, though it took until the 61st minute for the breakthrough to arrive.

Hazard picked up the ball on the left of the area and played a wonderful one-two with Luka Modric before teeing up Benzema, who arrowed his strike into the bottom-left corner.

Modric, who grew in influence after a quiet first half, brought the best out of Cillessen again with a long-range drive but there was nothing the keeper could about Asensio's goal.

Ferland Mendy fired a cross in from the left and Asensio sensationally guided home a first-time volley into the right-hand side of the goal.

Not to be outdone, Benzema put the cherry atop the cake with a delightful effort, lifting the ball over Hugo Guillamon before rifling a volley past a helpless Cillessen, with Valencia's misery compounded when Lee was sent off late on for kicking Sergio Ramos.

Brazil legend Ronaldo would try and lure Kylian Mbappe to Real Valladolid if he had Real Madrid's budget, revealing he sees similarities between himself and the France international. 

Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo stated recently that the club has no intention of selling star duo Mbappe or Neymar. 

Mbappe has often been linked with a big-money move to Madrid but has two years remaining on his contract. 

Former Madrid star Ronaldo is a majority shareholder of LaLiga side Valladolid and can only dream of being in a position to sign the World Cup winner, who had scored 18 goals in 20 league appearances before the season was cut short in France. 

Speaking at a media event sponsored by Santander Bank, Ronaldo said: "I would sign Mbappe [if Valladolid had Madrid's money], he is the one who most reminds me of me and my playing times." 

Ronaldo also spoke of his admiration for Erling Haaland, but is not convinced Madrid would need the Borussia Dortmund striker while they have Karim Benzema.

"Haaland is a great player, he is still young and has had a pretty good year with many goals, we will see how he ends it," he said.

"Surely big teams are going to be watching, but Real Madrid have good players, like Benzema who scores goals every Sunday."

Zinedine Zidane was happy to see Eden Hazard impress as Real Madrid made a winning return in LaLiga, saying the Belgium star was even glad to have endured some robust challenges.

Hazard started the match at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium on Sunday as Madrid won 3-1 against Eibar to move back to within two points of league leaders Barcelona.

Injury problems have blighted Hazard's first season at the club since his €100million move from Chelsea and there were concerns his campaign was over when he fractured his ankle in February.

The coronavirus-enforced break gave the forward more time to recover and he looked sharp in the first half against Eibar, setting up Sergio Ramos for the second goal and playing a key role in Marcelo's third.

Hazard was on the receiving end of some strong challenges and was substituted after 61 minutes, but head coach Zidane had few concerns.

"We knew Eden would lack a bit of rhythm to play the whole game. In the end, he played an hour and played well, too," he said.

"They gave him a good knock, a scare, but that's football. He said he was fine at the break, that he was glad he had been hit, and wasn't afraid. He's happy with what he did and we're happy, also."

Toni Kroos broke the deadlock in the fourth minute as Madrid dominated the first half, but their standards slipped after the break and Eibar threatened to make life difficult after Pedro Bigas deflected in a shot from Pablo De Blasis.

"It's a completely different thing to what we were experiencing before. We have to adapt," said Zidane.

"We started the game well, but it was difficult in the second half. I don't think it was physical, because we are well prepared. It was a bit of everything.

"I'll take the first half – that was dominant. It's an important win.

"Maybe we relaxed in the second. There was no one thing in particular. We had to make the changes: [Dani] Carvajal sprained his ankle, Ramos had discomfort too, Hazard because he hadn't played for a long time... I don't think it was the changes that made the game change."

Karim Benzema looked particularly sharp and combined well with Hazard in the first half, leading to a question as to whether the forward has followed a particular diet to come back in such lean shape.

"I don't know his diet, but Karim takes great care of himself, like most players," said Zidane. "He's happy to play again. I hope he keeps it up – we need him.

"It's wonderful to see them communicate and I have to talk mostly about the second goal, which came from a pass from Eden to Ramos."

Karim Benzema is convinced Real Madrid will hit the ground running when they resume their LaLiga campaign, highlighting Zinedine Zidane's emphasis on "enjoyment" following the coronavirus-enforced hiatus.

After a three-month suspension to the season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Madrid will return to the pitch on June 14 when they host Eibar.

LaLiga has been allowed to recommence behind closed doors thanks to the threat of the virus decreasing, and Madrid look set to push Barcelona all the way in the title race.

Barca resume the season two points clear of their bitter rivals, but Benzema is certain Los Blancos are ready for the challenge and they have relished being back in full training, with Zidane putting focus on ensuring the players are enjoying their work.

Benzema told Real Madrid TV: "Zidane's message is enjoyment. Enjoy playing football. We have had more contact with the ball than last week.

"We did more fitness last week and now, as we are closer to the restart of LaLiga, we have been using the ball more.

"The adaptation has been very good, step by step. It is much better here with our team-mates and with the ball, because it is more difficult to do so at home. It is more about the gym and fitness.

"Two months without a ball makes things tougher when you are back, but we are fine now, and we will keep working together with the ball. For instance, we have played a game today [Tuesday] and it's been very good for everyone.

"We can't wait to restart the competition and it's very important to win games. The first game against Eibar at home will be very important. So, we will give our best until the end."

The absence of supporters will be more peculiar for Madrid – who are used to playing in front of up to 80,000 people in the capital – than most, particularly as they are set to play home games at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, the 6,000-seat home of the Castilla side, to allow construction work to proceed on the Santiago Bernabeu.

Benzema, though, believes the team will still feel the love from those watching at home.

"It will be different, for sure," said the striker. "We always need our supporters.

"However, we will have our fans here and hopefully all of them will be in front of a TV supporting us, that's all.

"We know we have to win the games because they are very important for us and for the club and we will be at our best."

Could Spain international Fabian Ruiz be set for a return to his homeland?

Former Real Betis star Fabian, who now plays for Napoli in Serie A, is a reported target for Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The Spanish rivals are trying to lure Fabian back to LaLiga.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA, MADRID DO BATTLE FOR FABIAN

Barcelona and Real Madrid are set to battle each other for the signing of Napoli star Fabian Ruiz, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Spanish midfielder Fabian has been linked with a return to LaLiga throughout the season, having left Real Betis for Napoli in 2018.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Napoli are expecting Barca and Madrid to go head-to-head for Fabian – who is contracted to the Serie A side until 2023.

 

ROUND-UP

- L'Equipe says Inter have made an offer for Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette. With Inter star Lautaro Martinez linked to Barca, the Nerazzurri are eyeing alternatives, however, Lacazette is not interested in swapping London for Milan.

- There could be some big changes at Madrid in 2022. AS Diario says Los Blancos want Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland to team up with Eden Hazard in a new strike force. The likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Isco will be out of contract at the end of the 2021-22 season.

Juventus are ready to negotiate a deal for Santos teenager Kaio Jorge, according to Calciomercato. Santos are demanding €30million for the 18-year-old, though Juve are only prepared to pay €15m.

- The Daily Mail claims Manchester City and Newcastle United have joined Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the race for 18-year-old Penarol winger Facundo Pellistri.

Odion Ighalo is prepared to pass on a £75m contract with Shanghai Shenhua to stay at Manchester United, reports the Daily Star. Ighalo's loan deal is set to expire at Old Trafford.

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has hinted he could retire at Lyon but has no plans to return to his former club imminently.

Benzema made the switch from Lyon to Madrid in 2009 for a reported €35million and has scored 241 goals in 501 appearances in all competitions for Los Blancos.

It has been heavily reported in recent months the 32-year-old agreed to extend his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu until June 2022, though there has been no official confirmation of the deal.

Benzema made his senior debut during Lyon's triumphant 2004-05 Ligue 1 campaign and played an increasingly significant role as they made history by winning the trophy seven times in succession.

He has no doubt he will be part of Lyon's future, whether it is as a player or in a backroom position.

"Coming back to Lyon? It is often said to me. People know how attached I am to Lyon," he said in an interview on the French club's official YouTube channel.

"Coming back to Lyon immediately is not possible because I am in the best club in the world and I have a lot of things to do. But [I could] come back to Lyon and retire, why not?

"Anyway, I will come back to Lyon, whether as a footballer or not."

Asked for the top three players he has competed alongside, Benzema said: "The best three I've played with? It's hard. There have been so many.

"In France, I enjoyed playing with Juninho [Pernambucano] and [Sylvain] Wiltord. But in Madrid, there were a lot of good players. Cristiano Ronaldo, [Sergio] Ramos…

"It's hard to choose. But I had the chance to play with very great players."

With football no closer to being resumed as the coronavirus pandemic continues, players across Europe's top-five leagues have lots of time to pore over their performances from this season.

Using Opta data, we have already examined some of the worst attacking numbers from 2019-20, so now it's the turn of those ball-playing technicians: the pass-masters.

We have analysed nine key metrics for outfield players to play in at least 10 league games this season, thereby giving us a good summary of those whose passing could use some improvement. Those metrics are focused on the number of passes (overall, in a player's own half and their opponent's half), the accuracy of those passes, corners and crosses, and losing possession.

As always when it comes to data, context is key. For instance, we have included overall accuracy percentages to give balance to the simple number of passes. A team's playmaker or set-piece taker, for example, is arguably more likely to have a larger number of misplaced passes than team-mates simply because he will be attempting more of them, and often in difficult areas.

It's also worth noting that the number of times possession has been lost excludes 'Hoofs' (which, by their nature, make losing the ball more common), while corner and crossing accuracy is taken only from those to attempt, on average, at least one per game.

That said, the below gives a good indication of some passing figures that need improvement - and there are one or two surprising names...

THE WORST PASSING STATS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

BUNDESLIGA:

Most passes failed: Robert Andrich (291)
Worst passing accuracy: Anthony Modeste (55.4 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Jamilu Collins (110)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Kai Proger (60.5 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Sebastian Andersson (215)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Anthony Modeste (42.1 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Filip Kostic (199)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Wendell (0 of 22)
Most times possession lost: Filip Kostic (616)

LALIGA:

Most passes failed: Leandro Cabrera (352)
Worst passing accuracy: Enric Gallego (48.6 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Pervis Estupinan (94)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Sergio Leon (57.1 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Joselu (283)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Leandro Cabrera (43.5 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Jesus Navas (134)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Karim Benzema (0 of 19)
Most times possession lost: Pervis Estupinan (534)

LIGUE 1:

Most passes failed: Issiaga Sylla (281)
Worst passing accuracy: Suk Hyun-jun (44.8 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Fabien Centonze (111)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Suk Hyun-jun (50 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Andy Delort (238)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half:  Suk Hyun-jun (44.4 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Mathieu Dossevi (142)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): M'Baye Niang (0 of 11)
Most times possession lost: Angel Di Maria (539)

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most passes failed: Trent Alexander-Arnold (480)
Worst passing accuracy: Christian Benteke (52.4 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Cesar Azpilicueta (132)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Matej Vydra (50 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half:  Trent Alexander-Arnold (359)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Christian Benteke (48 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed:  Trent Alexander-Arnold (246)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Gabriel Martinelli (0 of 22)
Most times possession lost:  Trent Alexander-Arnold (867)

SERIE A:

Most passes failed: Stefano Sabelli (324)
Worst passing accuracy: Lautaro Martinez (59.5 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Stefano Sabelli (94)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Stefano Sabelli (230)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Florian Aye (58.5 per cent)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Roberto Inglese (54 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Erick Pulgar (134)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Kevin Lasagna (0 from 13)
Most possession lost: Stefano Sabelli (494)

AND THE TOP NINE:

Most passes failed: Trent Alexander-Arnold (480)
Worst passing accuracy: Suk Hyun-jun (44.8 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Cesar Azpilicueta (132)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Suk Hyun-jun and Matej Vydra (50 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Trent Alexander-Arnold (359)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Anthony Modeste (42.1 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Trent Alexander-Arnold (246)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Wendell and Gabriel Martinelli (0 of 22)
Most times possession lost: Trent Alexander-Arnold (867)

Karim Benzema said he "simply told the truth" with his jibe at French compatriot Olivier Giroud.

Real Madrid striker Benzema said "don't confuse Formula One with karting" when asked on Instagram live about comparisons to Chelsea centre-forward Giroud.

Giroud has filled the void left by Benzema's continued international exile, which dates back to 2015, helping France to World Cup glory in 2018.

Benzema sought to clarify his comments on Monday, stating that he had also talked up Giroud's strengths and adding that the same comparison could be used between himself and ex-Brazil superstar Ronaldo.

However, Benzema doubled down with his assessment.

Speaking on Instagram, he said: "About Giroud, I simply told the truth. 

"But we didn't remember what I said about him, especially about what he brings to the French national team. 

"We just remembered the moment when I said I was F1 and he was karting. That's what I think, that's the truth, and that's how it is. 

"Because now, if you ask me with R9 (Ronaldo): R9 is F1, and I am karting. That's the way it is. We're going to move on."

Benzema scored 27 goals in 81 international appearances for France, while Giroud is third on the all-time list with 39 from 97 matches.

Prior to coronavirus postponing the likes of LaLiga, the Premier League and Euro 2020, Benzema had scored 19 goals across all competitions for Zinedine Zidane's Madrid in 2019-20.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema said "don't confuse Formula One with karting" as the exiled French striker dismissed comparisons to countryman Olivier Giroud.

Benzema has not played for France since October 2015 – head coach Didier Deschamps refusing to call up the Madrid star, instead turning to Chelsea's Giroud.

Asked about the comparisons with Giroud, Benzema used a motorsport analogy to shoot down the question via social media.

"Don't confuse Formula One with karting, I'm Formula One," the 31-year-old said on Instagram Live.

Benzema has scored 27 goals in 81 international appearances for France, while Giroud is third on the all-time list with 39 from 97 matches.

Prior to coronavirus postponing the likes of LaLiga, the Premier League and Euro 2020, Benzema had scored 19 goals across all competitions for Zinedine Zidane's Madrid in 2019-20.

With the coronavirus pandemic having largely brought sport to a halt, many in the industry have a little extra time on their hands.

For footballers in Europe's top-five leagues - all of which have been postponed until at least early April - this is a good moment to look back on the season to date, assess what has gone right and wrong, and maybe put in a few hours on the treadmill at home.

There are some who have a little more to ponder than others.

Using Opta data, we've taken a look at some of the worst-performing players in their respective positions. Here, we examine those all-important personal-glory-hunters: the goalscorers.

We've analysed six key metrics when it comes to underperforming as a forward: shots off target, shooting accuracy, shot conversion rate, headed shots off target, big chance conversion rate and minutes per goal.

To make things more balanced, we've imposed some cut-off points, which are shown in the results below. These players have also been picked from those to make at least 10 league appearances this season, to make things a little fairer on those trying to mark a rare outing with a goal (here's looking at you, Phil Jones).

THE WORST ATTACKING STATS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20

BUNDESLIGA:

Most shots off target (Min. 30 shots): Robert Lewandowski (37)
Worst shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Guido Burgstaller (32.14 per cent)
Worst shot conversion rate (Min. one goal scored): Matheus Cunha (7.14 per cent)
Most headed shots off target (Min. 5 shots): Wout Weghorst (16)
Worst big chance conversion rate (Min. 5 big chances): Guido Bergstaller (0 per cent, from 5)
Most minutes per goal: Robert Skov (624.33)

LALIGA:

Most shots off target (Min. 30 shots): Karim Benzema (40)
Worst shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Jonathan Calleri (33.33 per cent)
Worst shot conversion rate (Min. one goal scored): Jonathan Calleri (3.33 per cent)
Most headed shots off target (Min. 5 shots): Joselu (15)
Worst big chance conversion rate (Min. 5 big chances): Sandro Ramirez (0 per cent, from 5)
Most minutes per goal: Jonathan Calleri (1362)

LIGUE 1:

Most shots off target (Min. 30 shots): Victor Osimhen (38)
Worst shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Casimir Ninga (28 per cent)
Worst shot conversion rate (Min. one goal scored): Jonathan Bamba (2.7 per cent)
Most headed shots off target (Min. 5 shots): Victor Osimhen (14)
Worst big chance conversion rate (Min. 5 big chances): Kalifa Coulibaly (0 per cent, from 9)
Most minutes per goal: Jonathan Bamba (1941)

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most shots off target (Min. 30 shots): Raul Jimenez (40)
Worst shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Joelinton (36.36 per cent)
Worst shot conversion rate (Min. one goal scored): Joelinton (3.03 per cent)
Most headed shots off target (Min. 5 shots): Sebastien Haller (14)
Worst big chance conversion rate (Min. 5 big chances): David McGoldrick (0 per cent, from 15)
Most minutes per goal: Joelinton (2237)

SERIE A:

Most shots off target (Min. 30 shots): Cristiano Ronaldo (40)
Worst shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Dries Mertens (33.33 per cent)
Worst shot conversion rate (Min. one goal scored): Suso (4.35 per cent)
Most headed shots off target (Min. 5 shots): Edin Dzeko (19)
Worst big chance conversion rate (Min. 5 big chances): Dries Mertens (16.67 per cent, from 6)
Most minutes per goal: Suso (1361)

AND THE TOP SIX:

Most shots off target (Min. 30 shots): Raul Jimenez (40)
Worst shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Casimir Ninga (28 per cent)
Worst shot conversion rate (Min. one goal scored): Jonathan Bamba (2.7 per cent)
Most headed shots off target (Min. 5 shots): Edin Dzeko (19)
Worst big chance conversion rate (Min. 5 big chances): David McGoldrick (0 per cent, from 15)
Most minutes per goal: Joelinton (2237)

Real Madrid missed the opportunity to return to the top of the table in LaLiga as they fell to a late 2-1 defeat at Real Betis on Sunday.

Zinedine Zidane's side had climbed to the summit with their Clasico defeat of Barcelona last week, but they slipped back below their bitter rivals after Quique Setien's men triumphed on Saturday and could not reclaim first place following a below-par display in Seville.

Indeed, Madrid would have been fortunate to emerge with even a point, as Betis enjoyed the better of the contest and led through Sidnei, only for the defender to swiftly concede a penalty at the other end that Karim Benzema scored.

Former Barca winger Cristian Tello netted with eight minutes remaining, though, and Los Blancos' have now won just once – against the Blaugrana – in their past five matches in all competitions, with Betis picking up their first win in seven top-flight games. 

Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero have been named on the bench by Pep Guardiola for the first leg of Manchester City's Champions League last-16 tie with Real Madrid.

Sterling has missed the majority of February due to a thigh strain, but Guardiola confirmed on Tuesday the 25-year-old – who has five Champions League goals to his name this season – would be fit to return at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The England forward has only been deemed fit enough to take a place among the substitutes however, and he is joined on the bench by City's leading scorer, Aguero.

Gabriel Jesus, who replaced Aguero and scored the winning goal against Leicester City on Saturday, starts up front in one of two changes to City's team – the Brazil international has scored four goals in five Champions League games this term.

Jesus' compatriot Fernandinho is a surprise omission, with Nicolas Otamendi partnering Aymeric Laporte at the back.

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane, meanwhile, has made three alterations to his side following a 1-0 defeat at Levante last time out.

Toni Kroos is replaced by Federico Valverde in midfield, while Ferland Mendy is in for Marcelo at left-back and the injured Eden Hazard makes way for Vinicius Junior, who is preferred to Gareth Bale.

Karim Benzema leads Madrid's line and will become the sixth player to make 100 Champions League appearances for the club, with Sergio Ramos making a record 124th start.

Real Madrid moved six points clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga as Karim Benzema's goal proved enough to claim a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid.

Both previous derbies between the sides this season - one in LaLiga and one in the Supercopa de Espana final - had finished 0-0 but Saturday's encounter finally bucked the trend.

Having held out somewhat in the first half, Madrid, who were buoyed by a double change from Zinedine Zidane at half-time, broke the deadlock through Benzema's first home goal against Atleti.

Substitute Vinicius Junior went close to capping a fine performance with a goal late on, but Madrid's failure to add another did not prove costly as they ended Atleti's six-match unbeaten run at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Sergio Ramos scored the winning penalty in Los Blancos' shootout victory in the Supercopa final last month and Madrid's captain twice went close to opening the scoring in the first 10 minutes, but sliced over on both occasions.

Ramos had some defending to do in the 18th minute, reacting sharply to clear Madrid's lines after Thibaut Courtois had kept out Vitolo's strike.

Courtois was beaten soon after, yet Angel Correa's effort clipped the upright, before Casemiro was fortunate his desperate lunge on Alvaro Morata did not lead to a penalty.

Zidane rolled the dice at the break, introducing Vinicius and Lucas Vazquez in place of Toni Kroos and Isco, moving Federico Valverde inside and the decision almost paid immediate dividends as the midfielder forced Jan Oblak into a fine save with a superb long-range effort.

However, Zidane's changes did prove decisive in the 56th minute - Vinicius drawing three Atleti defenders in before releasing Ferland Mendy, whose cross was side-footed home by Benzema.

Oblak then denied Vinicius to keep Atleti in the game, though the visitors could not make it count as their dismal start to 2020 continued.

 

What does it mean? Madrid put the pressure on Barca

Quique Setien's Barca are in action against Levante at Camp Nou on Sunday and know they must respond to prevent Madrid - who are unbeaten in 13 LaLiga matches - from ending the weekend with an increased lead at the summit.

Atleti, meanwhile, have lost three of their four matches across all competitions since the Supercopa final.

Vinicius sparks Madrid

Zidane's experiment of playing Valverde in a wide role in the first half was a failure, but the Frenchman spotted his mistake. Vinicius came on, adding width, pace and skill to Madrid's attack and, ultimately, played a pivotal role in Benzema's winner.

Simeone's time at Atleti winding down?

Atleti's defeat leaves them 13 points behind Los Blancos and their main aim now will be securing Champions League qualification. Despite plenty of money having been pumped into the squad, it seems Diego Simeone's impact finally seems to be wearing off and perhaps a change may be needed ahead of next season.

What's next?

Real Sociedad await Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday, while Atleti face Granada in their next LaLiga outing two days later.

 

Real Madrid coasted into the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey with a classy 4-0 victory at Real Zaragoza on Wednesday.

Raphael Varane and Lucas Vazquez were on target in the first half of the last-16 clash at La Romareda as Madrid barely had to move out of second gear.

Vinicius Junior and substitute Karim Benzema then completed the job in a second period that was even more sedate than the opening 45 minutes.

Tougher tests are on the horizon for LaLiga's leaders, starting with El Derbi against Atletico Madrid on Saturday, but it was a job well done for Zinedine Zidane's side.

Madrid caught Zaragoza napping after six minutes when Toni Kroos' low ball across the box went through Vinicius' legs and was smashed in by Varane.

The visitors were playing as though the game were a mere training exercise, although Alphonse Areola had to be sharp to tip Shinji Kagawa's deflected shot over.

Miguel Linares' questionable decision to dribble out of his own area was punished as Kroos pick-pocketed the forward and laid on for Vazquez to brilliantly smash home Madrid's second.

Kagawa scooped an effort over in a rare moment of note in the second half before Madrid put the game beyond doubt.

Vinicius played a neat one-two with James Rodriguez and clipped his effort past Alvaro Raton into the bottom-right corner.

Areola kept out Luis Suarez's one-on-one effort, but Madrid had a fourth 11 minutes from time when Benzema tapped in from Dani Carvajal's teasing low centre at the end of a well-worked move.

 

What does it mean? Madrid tune up nicely for the derby

Zaragoza are riding high in the second tier but were no match for Madrid, who are now unbeaten in 20 matches across all competitions. Zidane will be happy his side did not have to shift through the gears ahead of Saturday's derby with Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid in Kroos control

Kroos was typically influential in the heart of Madrid's midfield and finished with two assists. The Germany international dictated the tempo from the centre of the park.

Lax Linares punished

Zaragoza were mainly chasing shadows but had a couple of moments, particularly through Kagawa, to threaten Madrid. Linares' ill-judged attempt to jink out of defence proved costly, though, as Madrid quickly made it 2-0 to leave the hosts with a mountain to climb and he was hauled off just before the hour.

What's next?

Madrid face the tricky task of a derby with Atletico in LaLiga on Saturday, while Zaragoza visit Cadiz a day later.

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