MADRID (AP) - With Zinedine Zidane making all the right moves, Real Madrid added to its dominant run by defeating city rival Atlético Madrid and increasing its Spanish league lead on Saturday.
Zidane’s changes at halftime proved crucial for Madrid as it defeated Atlético 1-0 in the capital derby for its eighth straight victory and a six-point lead over second-placed Barcelona, which hosts Levante on Sunday.
The loss virtually ended Atlético’s title hopes, as it stayed 13 points off the lead and was in danger of dropping to seventh place by the end of the weekend.
It was a mostly even match in the first half and Atlético had some of the most significant chances, including a close-range shot by Ángel Correa that hit the post.
But Zidane changed the team’s formation in the second half and the game quickly turned in Madrid’s favor, with substitute Vinícius Júnior starting the play that led to Benzema’s winner from close range in the 56th minute.
Benzema hit a one-timer from just outside the six-yard box after a low cross from Ferland Mendy, whose run inside the area met a well-placed through ball by Vinícius Júnior.
Zidane started the match with five midfielders, with Benzema as the lone striker. The formation was first used in the Spanish Super Cup. But after the lackluster first half, he successfully changed it back to a 4-3-3 scheme with Lucas Vázquez and Vinícius Júnior coming off the bench to flank Benzema up front.
They replaced midfielders Francisco “Isco” Alarcón and Toni Kroos, giving the team greater offensive depth and opening up the Atlético defense.
“I wasn’t happy with what I was seeing,” Zidane said. “We had to make a change. We entered the second half playing differently and we showed better attitude. We were better in all areas and deserved the victory.”
Madrid was unbeaten against Atlético in the league in seven consecutive matches, but it hadn’t defeated its rival at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in six straight games.
The win extended Madrid’s unbeaten streak in all competitions to 21 matches. One of its victories came against Atlético in a penalty shootout in the Spanish Super Cup final this month in Saudi Arabia.
Atlético’s winless streak has reached five matches in all competitions, one of its worst stints since coach Diego Simeone arrived nearly a decade ago. The latest defeat has limited its main challenge to trying to make it back to the Champions League.
“There is reason to be concerned, of course,” Simeone said. “All we can do is keep working to try to get out of this uncomfortable situation.”
Atlético loudly complained of a penalty not awarded for the team after a challenge by Madrid midfielder Casemiro on forward Álvaro Morata in the first half.
There was a moment of silence to honor Kobe Bryant before the match.
Valencia followed its win over Barcelona by beating Celta Vigo 1-0.
Carlos Soler scored in the 77th to move the hosts to fourth place, 12 points off the lead.
Celta, sitting inside the relegation zone, hasn’t won in eight consecutive league games.
It was the fourth straight win for Valencia in all competitions.
Newly signed Russia striker Fyodor Smolov came off the bench in the second half to make his debut with Celta.
VALLADOLID WINS AGAIN
Valladolid ended a nine-match winless streak by defeating relegation-threatened Mallorca 1-0.
Enes Unal scored in the second half to give Valladolid its first victory since Nov. 3.
Mallorca remained just outside the relegation zone.
Granada’s two-game losing streak in the league ended with a 2-1 come-from-behind win against last-placed Espanyol 2-1 at home.
The victory moved Granada to 10th place.
Espanyol stayed three points from safety at the bottom of the standings.
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