Real Madrid coach Santi Solari hailed “spectacular” Karim Benzema after the Frenchman’s two-goal showing in Sunday’s entertaining 4-2 win at Espanyol.
A fast start saw Benzema and Sergio Ramos put Madrid 2-0 ahead, with Espanyol’s Leo Baptistao getting one back from the home side, before a superb Benzema strike made it 3-1 by the break.
Benzema kept continually teasing the home defence, and was also involved as fit-again Gareth Bale found the net moments after entering as a substitute for 4-1. Espanyol’s Roberto Rosales finished off the scoring late on, but Real defender Raphael Varane was shown a straight red card.
Solari told the post-game news conference that Madrid’s top scorer this season Benzema was just continuing the level he had been showing all season.
“Karim was spectacular today, but he always plays a complete game,” Solari said. “Today he scored twice, lovely goals. He is confirming what he has showed all season, and over most of his career. He has been playing at such a high level this year. He is generous with his play, makes those around him play better, and is generous with his effort too.”
The mood around the Madrid camp has improved a lot in recent weeks, with Solari’s side having won three on the bounce in La Liga and taking a 4-2 lead into Thursday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final second leg at Girona.
“We believe we have been working well for a while,” the Argentine replied when asked if a team which struggled earlier in the season were now finally hitting form. “We have played some very good games, although it is true in the last three games we have been more efficient in attack and scored many goals. Today we had intensity, we pressed, were direct in attack, had control of the game. It changed in the final minutes with Rafa’s sending off, but we defended the result with 10 men.”
Returning from four weeks out with latest calf muscle problem, Bale’s first involvement saw him turn two Espanyol defenders and smash the ball to the net from 10 yards.
“Gareth has that, he scores goals,” Solari said. “A chance and he took it. We hope he picks up more competitive rhythm with games, but he has worked hard to get back. The goal will be good for him, for his confidence. This is the Gareth we always want to see.”
A worry for Madrid was club captain Ramos leaving the game at the break after receiving a bang to his knee late in the first half.
“Sergio took a bang and could not continue,” Solari said. “The doctors will look at it tomorrow, but hopefully it is not serious, just a bang, and he can play the next game.”