SEVILLE, Spain (Reuters) - Real Madrid produced a gutsy performance to earn a 1-0 win at Sevilla on Sunday, which took them level on points at the top of La Liga, having been wounded by a humiliating Champions League defeat at Paris St Germain in midweek.
Benzema gave the visitors the lead against former Real coach Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla midway through the second half in a tense game, timing his jump perfectly to meet a cross by Dani Carvajal from the byline and send the ball high into the net.
Sevilla’s former Madrid striker Javier Hernandez put the ball in the net for the hosts late on but his effort was ruled out for offside and Real hung on to claim their first win at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in five seasons.
The victory saw Madrid climb into second place on 11 points after five games, level with leaders Athletic Bilbao, who beat visitors Alaves 2-0 on Sunday.
Sevilla began the weekend in top spot but tumbled to fifth on 10 points. Champions Barcelona are eighth on seven points after Saturday’s shock 2-0 defeat at promoted Granada.
“Real Madrid never loses its hunger or its desire to win,” captain Sergio Ramos told reporters.
“We knew how difficult this game would be, we hadn’t won here for many years, but we arrived with a very strong mentality and intent on committing as few errors as possible. Apart from a couple of set pieces, we had the game under control.”
Real had lost on their last four league visits to the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium and were thrashed 3-0 there last season, a game that spelled the beginning of the end for Lopetegui, who was sacked by the club little more than a month later.
Current coach Zinedine Zidane travelled to Seville facing serious questions about his own leadership of the team after they were hammered 3-0 by PSG in their Champions League group stage opener after failing to have a shot on target.
But Real produced a very different type of performance this time, which Zidane hailed as the best he had seen since returning to the club in March.
“It’s the game which leaves me the most satisfied since I came back, everyone on the pitch helped out,” he said.
“We had difficult moments but we showed great solidarity with each other in those moments. We played 90 minutes at a top level at a very difficult stadium. This is a victory for the group and I’m delighted for everyone.”
Sevilla’s entire squad had only recently returned from a gruelling 12,000-km round trip to Baku to face Qarabag in the Europa League on Thursday and lacked their usual aggression and intensity as a scrappy game ensued.
Carvajal had the visitors’ best chance before the interval, firing straight at keeper Tomas Vaclik from inside the area, while Gareth Bale also tested the Czech with a stinging free kick.
Neither side looked willing to take a risk to try and take the lead but the deadlock was finally broken thanks to some clever teamwork from the visitors, as Bale released Carvajal down the right wing and Benzema produced the perfect finish.
The goal sparked Sevilla into life and they spent most of the remaining minutes pressing for an equaliser, but Real dug deep to grind out a hugely significant victory.
“We did what we came here to achieve and now we can relax again after everything that was said about us this week,” added Ramos.
“This team is always optimistic, and we are going to get better. It’s a long season and we’re already joint-top of the league.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris