Real Madrid romps home against Athletic Bilbao inspired by Benzema's hat-trick heroics
Real Madrid tightened their stranglehold on third place in La Liga as Karim Benzema's hat trick earned them a 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao.
The Frenchman continued his scintillating form as he made it 30 goals in all competitions for the season-and 21 in La Liga.
Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane started with Gareth Bale on the bench as Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio flanked Benzema in attack.
Athletic still had an outside chance of making the Champions League places coming into kick-off and it was a scrappy first half with plenty of fouls, but little free-flowing play.
However, just a minute into the second half, and the deadlock was broken as Madrid's man of the moment Benzema met Asensio's cross to head past goalkeeper Iago Herrerin.
The visitors rarely threatened to pull a goal back and Benzema put the game out of sight with a second header on 76 minutes as Herrerin woefully misjudged the incoming corner.
And, in stoppage time, Benzema scored the best of the lot as he profited from a defensive mix-up to score with a long-range lob. The 31-year-old has now scored each of Madrid's last eight goals.
"We all know how good Karim is and what he brings to the side, whether he's scoring or not," teammate Marcelo told. "He's one of our leaders. I'm delighted with the goals but I know Karim will be more happy with the fact we have won. We really needed a win more than simply just scoring goals."
Zidane's men remain four points behind second-place Atletico, and 12 ahead of Sevilla, who sit just outside the Champions League places. Athletic stay in seventh.