Karim Benzema hit a hat trick to lead Real Madrid to a 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league, extending his scoring run since the return of coach Zinedine Zidane.
After not finding the net in Zidane’s first game back, Benzema has struck eight times in five matches.
The French striker stands out as the only Madrid player who is playing well in a very disappointing season for the traditional powerhouse. Out of the Champions League, and trailing Spanish leader Barcelona by 13 points in third place, Madrid’s players have nothing to play for other than pride.
And a place on the team next season.
Zidane has acknowledged that the club will make changes to its squad in the summer. Benzema was already one of Zidane’s favorite players when they won three Champions League titles together before Zidane stepped down last summer— only to come back last month.
“I am happy that Karim scored the goals, but I am sure that he is happier for the victory. He is one of our leaders,” Madrid’s Marcelo said. “It is tough to play with nothing at stake. We have to find the motivation. It has been a very, very difficult season, but we have to give it all for these colors.”
The three goals gave Benzema 30 in all competitions this season. He has 21 goals in the league, second only to Lionel Messi with 33.
After a drab 45 minutes, Benzema ignited Madrid in the second half. He jumped highest to head in his first two goals from crosses by Marco Asensio and Luka Modric in the 47th and 76th minutes, respectively.
He capped the win in the 90th after Bilbao goalkeeper Iago Herrerin gifted the ball to Gareth Bale with a clumsy clearance made outside the area. Bale then laid the ball off for Benzema to float a long strike into the empty net.
“There will always be debate and rumor, and I have always thought that (Benzema) is an extraordinary player,” Zidane said. “There are few players at his position who can link up with his teammates like he does.”
Bale was again jeered by some of the spectators at the Santiago Bernabeu for what many Madrid fans consider his poor play this season.
When asked if he heard the fans’ frustrations with Bale, Zidane responded: “I don’t understand it. I honestly do not.”