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REAL MADRID

Benzema hands Real victory over Liverpool

Real Madrid cruised into the Champions League last 16 as Karim Benzema's solitary goal continued their 100 percent record in Group B with a 1-0 win over an under-strength Liverpool.

Benzema hands Real victory over Liverpool
Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring against Liverpool on Monday. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had sprung a surprise by naming a side missing a host of first-team regulars, including captain Steven Gerrard and Mario Balotelli, who were left on the bench ahead of a crucial Premier League clash with Chelsea on Saturday.

And despite a more spirited showing than in their 3-0 defeat to Madrid at Anfield two weeks ago, Benzema's first-half winner condemned them to a third consecutive European defeat.

Basel's 4-0 thrashing of Ludogorets Razgrad leaves them in pole position to join Madrid in the last 16.

Liverpool and Ludogorets trail the Swiss champions by three points and will face off in Bulgaria next time out while Basel host Madrid in Switzerland.

"We're disappointed with the result after an excellent performance," said Rodgers, who dismissed criticism of his team selection.

"We defended very well when we had to against the best team in the world at the minute, who have been scoring five and six goals a game.

"I thought we were very unfortunate not to get something from the game. You see many teams come here and the game is over after 20 minutes. For our attitude and courage to play I thought we could have got at least a draw."

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, was happy to see his side seal their passage into the last 16 despite not sparkling as they have done recently on a 12-game winning streak

"I think we played well, albeit the tempo wasn't that high," he said.

"We scored in the first half and then we controlled the game without taking too many risks."

Cristino Ronaldo was looking for his 71st Champions League goal to match the all-time competition record held by Real legend Raul, but the Portuguese endured a frustrating night as he was denied on several occasions by Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet.

The Belgian international was called into action as early as the third minute as he flew to his left to deny James Rodriguez before turning a fierce drive from Ronaldo over for a corner.

Even without the presence of Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, Liverpool were still enjoying plenty of possession in the early stages, but lacked penetration as a couple of promising breaks from Lazar Markovic were easily snuffed out.

Madrid eventually found a way through on 27 minutes when Isco fed Marcelo down the left and the Brazilian's inviting low cross was turned in at the far post by the sliding Benzema.

No record for Ronaldo

Mignolet was called into action again to limit the damage for Rodgers's men before half-time as he palmed away a swerving Ronaldo free-kick and a volleyed effort from Marcelo.

Ronaldo's search for the record-equalling goal continued after the break, but the man who has 22 goals to his name this season ws suffering an uncharacteristic off-night as he fired another decent opening straight at Mignolet.

Liverpool then posed their first serious threat when Adam Lallana spun on the edge of the Madrid box and sent a low left-footed effort inches beyond the far post before Fabio Borini's deflected free-kick also drifted just wide.

Gareth Bale made his return after five games out with a pelvic muscle injury as he replaced Rodriguez on the hour mark, while Rodgers played his trump cards as Gerrard and Sterling were introduced at the expense of Lucas Leiva and Markovic.

It was Bale who made the most significant impact, though, when he turned another fine cross from Marcelo onto the bar 19 minutes from time.

The Welshman's next opportunity came from a free-kick after he had been chopped down by Alberto Moreno, but again Mignolet was equal to his dipping effort.

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FOOTBALL

Black Lives Matter: Marcelo ‘takes the knee’ to celebrate Real Madrid win

Marcelo celebrated by taking a knee as Real Madrid returned from three months away following the coronavirus suspension by beating Eibar 3-1 on Sunday.

Black Lives Matter: Marcelo 'takes the knee' to celebrate Real Madrid win
Real Madrid's Brazilian defender Marcelo kneels on the field to celebrate his goal. Photo: AFP

After scoring Madrid's third goal in the 37th minute, Marcelo dropped onto his left knee and raised his clinched right fist into the air, apparently in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Madrid's win may have come at a cost as Eden Hazard and Sergio Ramos were both substituted early in the second half and were seen with ice packs strapped to them while sitting in the stands.

Hazard was making his first start since February and his ice pack appeared to be around his troublesome right ankle, which he injured in November and February, before undergoing surgery in March.

“We knew Eden would lack a bit of rhythm playing the whole game,” coach Zinedine Zidane said.

“He played well for an hour, he took a knock which was a scare but at half-time he said he was fine. He is happy with what he has done and we are happy with him.”

Madrid's win means they reduce the gap behind league leaders Barcelona back to two points after the Catalans thrashed Real Mallorca 4-0 on Saturday.    

Madrid struck in the fourth minute after a superb strike from Toni Kroos before Ramos tucked away Hazard's pass on the counter-attack.    

Eibar pulled one back in the second half through Pedro Bigas but never found the second to make Madrid nervous, despite a brief spell of pressure.    

Before going off, Hazard was busy, the Belgian involved in all three goals.    

His weaving run through midfield led to Kroos' shot and it was his effort that was cleared out to Marcelo, who drove into the corner.    

After a miserable opening season in Spain, it was a bright start for Hazard, who could now redeem himself by playing a crucial role in the run-in, if he can stay injury-free.

Perhaps even more impressive though was Karim Benzema, who linked up brilliantly with Hazard and was unfortunate not to get the goal an excellent all-round performance deserved.

Gareth Bale started on the bench but came on and could start against Valencia on Thursday.

Zidane is likely to rotate heavily over the next few weeks, with the games coming thick and fast.

New surroundings

Madrid's coach will also have been pleased to get off to a positive start in their new training ground home, which was the 100th different stadium to be used in La Liga.

They will be playing all their remaining home matches at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium to allow renovation work at the Santiago Bernabeu to continue this summer.

“We know the situation, it's all a bit strange,” said Zidane. “But the players are all champions and we have to get our heads around it.”    

Barca had needed less than two minutes to score against Mallorca and Madrid were only slightly later, as Hazard broke through Eibar's midfield and Casemiro set Benzema free.

The ball was cleared to Kroos on the edge of the area, who struck first time, sidefooting perfectly into the far top right-hand corner.   

Ramos doubled their advantage after starting, and finishing, a ruthless counter-attack. In between, Benzema and Hazard were involved again, the former picking out the latter, who generously gave Ramos an open goal.

Marcelo put Eibar all but out of sight before half-time as Benzema played through for Hazard and his shot spilled out to Marcelo to lash into the corner.

Eibar were better after the break as Edu Exposito forced a full-stretch save from Thibaut Courtois and then Sergi Enrich headed against the crossbar. 

Bigas did score after diverting in Pedro Leon's shot but Madrid held on.    

Earlier, Diego Costa scored his first goal since October but Atletico Madrid missed the chance to move into La Liga's top four by drawing 1-1 away at Athletic Bilbao.

Costa celebrated by holding up the shirt of Virgina Torrecilla, a player from Atletico's women's team, who underwent surgery on a brain tumour last month.

His equaliser came two minutes after the excellent Iker Muniain had given Bilbao the lead towards the end of the first half and neither side could find a winner at the empty San Mames, with Atletico defender Santiago Arias missing the best chance late on.

Diego Simeone's side stay sixth, level on points with Getafe and one behind Real Sociedad, who were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Osasuna.

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