Karim Benzema scored a first-half hat trick to lead Real Madrid to a 4-2 win over Almeria in a Spanish league game that included an injury scare for forward Vinícius Júnior on Sarturday.
The comfortable win over Almeria ensured Madrid remained in second place while Barcelona maintained its commanding 11-point lead after beating nine-man Real Betis 4-0.
But whether Madrid’s season ends in success or failure will hinge on next weekend’s Copa del Rey final against Osasuna and its Champions League semifinal rematch from last season with Manchester City.
With Luka Modric already doubtful for those critical games, the last thing coach Carlo Ancelotti needed was to see his best winger grab his right knee and ask to be substituted several minutes after banging into a defender.
After the match Ancelotti said Vinícius would likely be good to go.
“He had a knock on his knee that bothered him, but it’s nothing, just a knock,” Ancelotti said. “I think he will be fine in a couple of days. He will be ready for the cup final.”
Fellow Brazil forward Rodrygo also ended the game on the bench with an ice pack on his left knee. But he didn’t seem to be injured.
Madrid has one more Liga game at Real Sociedad before the Copa final against Osasuna in Seville. Three days later Madrid hosts City on May 9.
More importantly for Madrid, its players showed the ambition they lacked in a 4-2 loss at Girona midweek. That defeat led Ancelotti to admit his team lacked motivation for the league with Barcelona so far ahead on the table.
Benzema tapped in the fifth-minute opener at the Santiago Bernabeu after Vinícius dribbled past Houboulang Mendes and used the outside of his right boot to square the ball.
Rodrygo, who also scored Madrid’s fourth goal from long range just after halftime, produced another assist for Benzema after an audacious dribbling move. With Almeria’s Samu Costa draped over his back, Rodrygo rolled the ball with the back of his boot to slip it behind the defender. He spun around Costa to pick up his dribble and found Benzema to score in the 17th.
Benzema’s third came in the 42nd from a spot kick after Largie Ramazani fouled Lucas Váquez.
Ancelotti, however, still had some worries about his defense after Lázaro scored in first-half injury time and Lucas Robertone headed in following Rodrygo’s goal.
“I don’t understand how in two games we have conceded six goals,” Ancelotti said. “I am angry. I hope this serves as a message to my team.”
Vinícius and Eduardo Camavinga will both miss Tuesday’s game at Real Sociedad after earning one-game suspensions for accumulating five yellow cards.
Even the weather complemented Barcelona’s win over Betis as it rained steadily, bringing a bit of relief to one of the driest areas of drought-stricken Spain. The club posted a message on Twitter saying “We love a rainy night.”
Betis’ Édgar González had a night to forget at Camp Nou. He replaced the injured Luiz Felipe in the 12th minute, but by the 33rd he was heading back to the bench after being sent off with two yellow cards for fouls.
So it went for Betis, which saw its chances for a Champions League berth fade. Manuel Pellegrini’s side was left in sixth place at nine points behind Sociedad, which holds fourth place and the last spot for Europe’s elite competition.
Barcelona was already winning thanks to a 14th-minute header by Andreas Christensen before Édgar left Betis undermanned. Robert Lewandowski then took his league-leading tally to 19 goals, two more than Benzema.
Raphinha, who crossed the ball for Christensen’s opener, added a third goal in the 39th.
Ousmane Dembélé went on late for his first appearance since the Barcelona winger injured his left thigh in late January.
Betis veteran Joaquín Sánchez received an ovation from a large part of Barcelona’s 88,000-strong crowd when he went on as a second-half substitute. The 41-year-old forward recently announced he will retire after this season, the 23rd of his career.
Betis finished with nine men after Joaquín walked off with what looked like a right knee issue in the 80th and all their substitutions made.
etis’ Guido Rodríguez then turned a pass by Ansu Fati into his own net.
Fifteen-year-old Lamine Yamal debuted for Barcelona in the final minutes.
Barcelona said the forward is the youngest player to play a Spanish league game in club history. In 1902, a 13-year-old played for Barcelona in a cup competition.
Yamal would have scored if not for a save by goalkeeper Rui Silva.
“I told him to try things. And boy did he do that, and at 15 years old, imagine that,” coach Xavi Hernández said. “He almost scored, almost assisted for a teammate. He can become a special player.”
Elche rolled to its biggest win of an otherwise painful season when it beat Rayo Vallecano 4-0. The last-placed side was still 16 points from safety with six games left.