La Liga wrap: Real win with Benzema brace

Real Madrid cut Barcelona’s lead in La Liga to four points with a 2-0 win over Hercules, while Valencia were stunned by Real Zaragoza.

A brace to France international Karim Benzema ensured Real kept pace with the league leaders, who will look to restore their seven-point lead when they visit Sevilla on Sunday.

Benzema’s brace was the perfect warm-up for an impending visit from former club Lyon, who carry a 1-1 aggregate into the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.

Real, playing without injured superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, went ahead in the 24th minute when Alvaro Arbeloa pulled back his pass on the right for the waiting Benzema, who coolly disposed of the ball beyond Hercules goalkeeper Calatayud.

The hosts had plenty of opportunities to extend their advantage before Benzema finally did so in the 56th minute, the Frenchman picked out by Angel Di Maria’s cross for his ninth goal of the season.

Elsewhere, Valencia’s hopes of a top-three finish took a dent when they were humbled 4-0 at Real Zaragoza.

Czech midfielder Jiri Jarosik put the hosts ahead in just the fifth minute, and Ander’s first goal since September put Zaragoza 2-0 up in the 40th minute.

Things only got worse for Valencia after the break, beginning with a second caution to Lithuanian defender Marius Stankevicius in the 65th minute.

Gabi converted from the penalty spot following that infraction, and the Spaniard added a second penalty 11 minutes later after Valencia substitute Albelda fouled in the area.

Valencia are safe in third for the time being, but fourth-placed Villarreal can move within a point of them with victory over Sporting Gijon on Sunday.

Finally, Atletico Madrid were held to a 2-2 draw at lowly Almeria, despite a brace to prolific Argentinean Sergio Castillo.

Crusat and Henok Goitom nabbed goals for Almeria to deny Atletico, who provisionally move up to eighth with the point.