MADRID (Reuters) - A Marco Asensio-inspired Real Madrid crushed Eibar 3-0 to close the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona to five points on Sunday, with Karim Benzema starting on the bench.
Asensio forced an own goal and scored the second as Madrid moved up to third place with 20 points, one behind second-placed Valencia and one ahead of Atletico Madrid, who beat Celta Vigo 1-0 away thanks to a Kevin Gameiro strike.
Barcelona beat Malaga 2-0 at the Nou Camp on Saturday while Valencia thrashed visitors Sevilla 4-0.
Asensio, picked ahead of France striker Benzema to partner a subdued Cristiano Ronaldo up front, sparkled as Real made light work of the visiting Basque side, who are 16th.
Paulo Oliveira headed Asensio’s cross into his own goal in the 18th minute, before the forward volleyed home the second goal 10 minutes later from Isco’s ball.
Substitute Marcelo added the third in the 82nd with a low drilled effort into the far corner to finish off the drubbing.
“I‘m very happy with the goal but the most important thing was the result, it was a great game,” Marcelo told Movistar.
“We’ve been doing well, people (who have criticised us) forget how difficult it is to play a game in La Liga, the best league in the world, you have to be patient.”
Zinedine Zidane made five changes from the Real side which drew 1-1 at home to Tottenham Hotspur in their Champions League group stage match on Tuesday.
The coach brought in Asensio for Benzema, despite his staunch defence of the Frenchman on Saturday after criticism from former Spurs and Barcelona striker Gary Lineker among others, and the decision paid dividends.
Madrid could have taken the lead as early as the second minute when they sliced through Eibar, with Asensio feeding Isco, whose strike was saved by Marko Dmitrovic.
The hosts went ahead when Oliveira nodded Asensio’s cross past Dmitrovic under pressure from Sergio Ramos after a short corner routine.
Asensio doubled the lead 10 minutes later with a vicious low volley from Isco’s cross, his third La Liga goal of the season giving the hosts a comfortable cushion.
A Casemiro thunderbolt missed the top corner by inches as waves of Madrid attacks shook the Basque minnows, who countered quickly but ineffectively.
Asensio fed Isco in the second half but the Spanish playmaker was denied again, while Eibar’s Takashi Inui was unfortunate not to earn a penalty when he was brought down by Casemiro.
Madrid struggled to add to their lead, with Ronaldo and Benzema, on for Asensio, both firing high over the bar when well-placed, until Marcelo found the net.
“Benzema is a great player, Cristiano scores a lot of goals,” added Marcelo. “It’s normal that people want more from Benzema and from everyone, but he has a lot more than goals, he’s the best number nine in Europe.”
Earlier, Gameiro’s strike earned Atletico the points in Galicia where Celta, in 10th spot, impressed but could not break down Diego Simeone’s typically rock-solid backline.
Gameiro blasted home in the 28th minute from close range, against the run of play, after a corner bounced to him fortuitously.
Iago Aspas nearly equalised when his free kick struck the crossbar, but Atletico held out to end a run of four games without a win in all competitions.
Leganes moved up to fifth with a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao thanks to a brilliant individual goal from Claudio Beauvue, while Villarreal thrashed Las Palmas 4-0 to go sixth, sending the islanders down to third-bottom.
Editing by Ian Chadband and Ken Ferris