Benzema saves Los Blancos again! Real Madrid winners, losers & ratings vs Valladolid as No.9 returns with a bang

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Real Madrid Valladolid split
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Karim Benzema scored twice in the last 10 minutes to settle an uneasy Real Madrid as they picked up a 2-0 win against struggling Valladolid.

Karim Benzema had to wait. He stood over the ball for nearly a minute before taking the penalty, left to ponder his spot kick while cards were flashed around him. But when the whistle blew, Benzema was clinical, striding up to the ball and stroking it into the bottom corner.

His goal saved Madrid after a tepid showing against 15th-placed Valladolid. Real were on the back foot for long periods, and relied on the sharp reflexes of Thibaut Courtois to keep them in the game. And on his return, Benzema wasn't exactly sharp early on.

He fired over from close range, and Madrid had a penalty shout denied to mark a morbid first half for the away side. Meanwhile, Valladolid were dangerous on the break. They found holes in a makeshift Madrid midfield trio, testing an often sloppy backline for most of proceedings. Still, thanks to Courtois, they never found the back of the net, and their visitors made them pay. Benzema scored twice in the last 10 minutes, once from the spot and again following a flowing counter attack to make a tricky game seem routine.

This was never likely to be an easy contest for Los Blancos. With 12 of their players coming back from Qatar and in front of a hostile home crowd, here was a game near-destined to be uncomfortable. And Valladolid ensured it would be a tricky one.

Still, Madrid posted a mostly assured performance. Courtois kept them in it, and their star striker found the net twice. For all of the sluggishness of the first half and anxiety of the second, they picked up a win. And in a La Liga title hunt, it's the points that really matter.

  1. The Winners
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    The Winners

    Thibaut Courtois:

    Is he the best in the world? After nights like this, it's hard to say anyone is better. Courtois made three diving stops to frustrate the home side, giving Madrid a foothold in a game they really should have been losing.

    Ancelotti won't be happy to have to rely on his goalkeeper, especially with his side in the title hunt. But the Belgian kept Los Blancos in the contest for long enough for them to get the job done.

    Karim Benzema:

    It was a frustrating start for the striker. Benzema's first touch was lacking, and he wasn't as slick in his usual flowing interchanges with the Madrid midfield. But he grew into the game, forcing Jordi Masip into a few diving stops.

    And when the clear chances came, Benzema struck. His penalty was a confident one, as he sent the keeper the wrong way. He added a second with less than a minute remaining in regular time, smashing the ball into the net after a fluid counter. In the end, it was an unlikely brace, but a vital one nonetheless.

    Luka Modric:

    Modric was only on the pitch for 10 minutes, but showed just how important he is to the team in a short spell. Madrid were transformed when he joined the fray. And he was influential in Real's second, winning the ball back before playing a wonderful ball down the line to Camavinga, who dutifully set up Benzema for the winner. Perhaps he can no longer play 90 minutes every week, but it was a delightful cameo from a player who still looks at his best.

  2. The Losers
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    The Losers

    Marco Asensio:

    Asensio has made it clear that he wants to stay at Madrid, but isn't doing himself many favours on the pitch. The Spaniard often tried to do too much, and didn't jell with Valverde along the right wing. Although he worked hard off the ball, Asensio showed exactly why he's behind Rodrygo in Ancelotti's plans.

    Dani Ceballos:

    With Luka Modric, Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni all returning from World Cup duty, this was Dani Ceballos' chance to justify more minutes in a deep Madrid midfield. And he squandered it. The Spaniard was often caught lagging on the ball, and failed to pick out Benzema on a number of occasions.

    The gap in quality between the 26-year-old and Eduardo Camavinga is immense, as Madrid looked a different side altogether when the young Frenchman was introduced. He can still offer something, but it looks increasingly like Ceballos' future lies away from the capital.

    Barcelona:

    It was likely a frustrating one for the league leaders, who watched their nearest rivals snatch a perhaps undeserved victory at the death. They still have a game in hand, but find themselves in second place heading into the new year. Based on the calibre of Valladolid's performance, Xavi's side might feel as though they should still be top.

  3. Real Madrid Ratings: Defence
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    Real Madrid Ratings: Defence

    Thibaut Courtois (8/10): Made one crucial diving stop in the first half when his side lost control of the game. Did so again to keep Sergio Leon out. Incredibly, this was his first clean sheet of the season.

    Dani Carvajal (6/10): Reliable defensively, covered for Rudiger well on a couple of occasions. Ran out of legs after an hour.

    Antonio Rudiger (7/10): The bright spot at the back. Won his aerial duals and distributed well. One fantastic burst of pace stopped Leon on the break.

    David Alaba (6/10): Fortunate to not concede a penalty for a silly first half challenge, but was otherwise solid.

    Ferland Mendy (6/10): Not the best night in attack for the left-back, but was assured defensively. Average, which was enough.

  4. Midfield
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    Midfield

    Federico Valverde (6/10): Has an unfortunate habit of disappearing for long spells, and did so here. He will have better showings.

    Toni Kroos (7/10): Fantastic early on, dictating play and imposing himself on the game. His influence faded over time. Not at his best as a No.6, but played 90 valuable minutes.

    Dani Ceballos (6/10): An ineffective performance. Made one crucial interception to stop a Valladolid counter. Substituted for Camavinga after 70 minutes, who looked far more composed.

  5. Attack
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    Attack

    Marco Asensio (6/10): Entrusted with a start after a tepid World Cup. Blasted one over the bar when he should've picked out Benzema. Substituted after 60 minutes to cap off a frustrating night.

    Karim Benzema (8/10): Looked rusty in the first half. Missed a sitter after 15 minutes and wasn't as assured as usual in possession. Much better in the second, linking up with the midfield more effectively. Scored twice in the final 10 minutes, which is rarely a bad thing.

    Vinicius Jr (6/10): Typically lively on the ball, but left frustrated by the dogged Ivan Fresneda. Tried to chip the keeper when he should've passed, which could have cost his side.

  6. Subs & Manager
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    Subs & Manager

    Lucas Vazquez (6/10) - Came on for Carvajal and was allegedly on the pitch for 30 minutes.

    Rodrygo (6/10) - Good to have a runout after the World Cup, but didn't offer much as Madrid tried to create late on.

    Eduardo Camavinga (7/10) - A good showing after an excellent World Cup. Assisted Benzema's second and looked steady in midfield.

    Luka Modric (8/10) - A sublime cameo to settle things down. What a footballer.

    Aurelien Tchouameni (6/10) - Didn't really make an impact. Touched the ball eight times in 10 minutes.

    Carlo Ancelotti (6/10) - Handed Ceballos and Asensio starts to give his World Cup absentees a rest and it didn't really work. Probably should have brought some fresh legs on at half time with the game locked at 0-0. Relied on his big names and was perhaps a bit lucky to come away with three points.