BENZEMA SCORES A STUNNER AS REAL WIN AT BILBAO

Goals from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos helped Real Madrid win at Athletic Bilbao to move back to within three points of league leaders Barcelona.

Ballon d’Or holder Benzema extended his run to six goals in five league matches with a sublime contorted volley.

It helped Carlo Ancelotti’s side bounce back after defeats in their last league match at Villarreal and against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.

Barca had moved six points clear with a win against Getafe earlier on Sunday.

Victory at eighth-placed Bilbao – who have not won in four league matches since returning from the World Cup break – also helped Real restore a three-point cushion over third-placed Real Sociedad, who they face in their next league match at home on 29 January.

Benzema has provided much of Real’s thrust since the turn of the year, after missing France’s World Cup campaign through injury.

The 35-year-old striker, who recently hinted at retirement from international football, showed great athleticism and presence of mind to fashion a stunning first-half opener.

He pounced on a misplaced header from Marco Asensio inside the box, twisting as the ball dropped on to his weaker left foot before hooking it across goal and into the bottom corner.

Benzema’s ninth league goal of the season was his 12th from 18 games in all competitions and gave Real a great platform to seal a 13th win from 17 matches in La Liga.

The Frenchman then turned provider, feeding Asensio with a clever reverse pass after the hour mark but his strike partner dragged his shot across goal.

Bilbao took heart from the miss, with Nico Williams going close as they built up some late pressure.

Thibaut Courtois produced some telling interventions in the Real goal and, when Inaki Williams did manage to get the ball in the net for the home side, his effort was ruled out for an offside in the build-up.

Any hopes Bilbao had of earning a point were wiped out in the 90th minute with a powerful first-time strike from second-half substitute Kroos.

Real next face city neighbours Atletico in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday (20:00 GMT) before that key league meeting with Real Sociedad next Sunday (20:00 GMT).

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