BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — For the second time in a week, Karim Benzema scored in the final minutes as Real Madrid gained ground on Atlético Madrid in the Spanish league title race.
Benzema’s late brace earned Madrid a 2-1 win over Elche on Saturday, cutting into Atlético’s lead at the top after it was held 0-0 at 10-man Getafe.
Madrid closed the gap with its crosstown rival to six points with 11 rounds remaining. Barcelona was left one point behind Madrid in third place before it hosts Huesca on Monday.
Benzema’s brace came six days after his 88th-minute goal salvaged a 1-1 draw with Atlético.
Elche defender Dani Calvo headed the visitors in front in the 61st minute at Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium.
But Benzema responded with a 73rd-minute equalizer and added an exquisite half-volley from the side of the area for the injury-time winner.
“It wasn’t an easy game against a team that was well organized. We know that we have to make an extra effort to get to the top of the table,” Benzema said after taking his team-high tally to 20 goals in all competitions this season.
Showing no sense of urgency, Madrid looked set to pay for its complacency against an Elche side whose goal is to avoid relegation. Elche won its fair share of possession and limited Madrid to a tame shot by Isco — until Benzema worked his heroics with the team’s title hopes at risk.
Coach Zinedine Zidane had left midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos on the bench to rest them for Madrid’s upcoming Champions League match against Atalanta.
But after Calvo’s opener, the two playmakers went on and had a quick impact. Modric took a pass from Kroos before he floated a cross to the far post for Benzema to jump over his marker and nod the ball home.
Elche retreated into its area as Madrid pressed for a second goal. Casemiro had already threatened twice before Benzema exchanged passes with substitute Rodrygo and blasted a left-footed shot from the left side of the area beyond the reach of goalkeeper Edgar Badía.
“The players who came on gave us a different look. My second goal was pretty and worth three points, so I am as happy as can be,” Benzema said.
Both Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard played their first matches after being sidelined for several weeks with leg injuries. Ramos played an hour as a starter. Hazard played the final quarter of an hour.
Madrid will host Atalanta on Tuesday in the round of 16 of the Champions League after winning the away leg 1-0.
“I like the character my team showed,” Zidane said. “Our comeback is positive both for the league and to prepare for Tuesday’s match.”
Atlético pressured Getafe early in the game, forcing four quick corners and a save by David Soria to deny Yannick Carrasco.
But its attack stalled and Diego Simeone overhauled his lineup to give it more punch up front. João Félix went on at halftime, followed by striker Moussa Dembele, winger Thomas Lemar, and left back Renan Lodi with 25 minutes to play.
Allan Nyom left the hosts a man down in the 70th when he earned a direct red card for recklessly driving his studs into the lower leg of Lodi.
Atlético poured forward with the extra space, and holes finally appeared in Getafe’s defense.
Soria swatted away goal-bound shots from Dembele and Félix before Luis Suárez curled an exquisite chipped shot over the goalkeeper only to hit the post in the 83rd. Dembele also had a header that missed by inches in the 90th.
After winning in eight consecutive rounds from mid-December through January, Atlético has won just three of its last eight league games and let Madrid and Barcelona back into the title race.
Simeone, however, didn’t see the stalemate as a setback.
“For me this is a step forward. Draw or win, it is always positive to earn points,” Simeone said. “Their goalkeeper had a great match and we couldn’t put it in. (But) in the second half we played well and I liked how we went on the attack.”
Atlético plays Chelsea on Wednesday and trails 1-0 in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Álex Fernández converted a late penalty to give Cádiz a 1-1 draw at Alavés, while Osasuna drew 0-0 with Valladolid.
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