Karim Benzema and Joao Félix were in song as they both guided their respective teams, Madrid giants Real and Atlético, to wins in La Liga on Saturday.
The victories will give a morale boost to the Madrid teams ahead of their meeting with the Premier League heavyweights in the Champions League quarter-finals next week.
Benzema missed a penalty but scored twice as Real Madrid defeated Celta Vigo 2-1 to return to winning ways ahead of Wednesday’s decider with Chelsea.
Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, edged out Alaves 4-1 ahead of their trip to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Tuesday, Félix, in top form, scoring twice, with Luis Suárez adding a brace of his own after coming on as a substitute. .
Felix now has seven goals in his last eight games for Atletico and the 22-year-old is likely to be key if Diego Simeone’s men want to upset City and reach the semi-finals.
“We go with confidence but also with our feet on the ground because we know it will be a very tough game”, said Félix.
Madrid’s win at Balaídos will also calm nerves in the La Liga title race, allowing the leaders to draw a line under their drubbing at the hands of a resurgent Barcelona ahead of the international break.
And, despite a flawed performance, victory should restore confidence ahead of the first leg at Chelsea, with Thomas Tuchel’s side now reeling from a humiliation of their own, after being beaten 4-1 by Brentford at home.
Chelsea, who beat Real Madrid in two semi-final matches last year, will be a much tougher test than Celta and Carlo Ancelotti’s side will surely not have the benefit of receiving three penalties at Stamford Bridge.
“I don’t know if we deserved to win, I had to make two big saves in the first half,” Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said.
“But winning is important. Chelsea lost at home today so they will want to come back strong on Wednesday. We have to give more. We lacked a bit of intensity today and we can’t do it because that’s one of Chelsea’s strengths.” You have to be aggressive.”
Real Madrid’s chances against Chelsea improve enormously with the recovery of Benzema, and also of Ferland Mendy, who offers much more solidity at left back than Nacho Fernández or Marcelo.
Benzema marked his return from injury with a brace that brings his goal tally for the season to 39.
Any hope Barcelona had of causing a collapse may already be dashed, with Real Madrid now 12 points ahead of Sevilla and 15 ahead of the Catalans, who have two games to go, the first of which against Sevilla on Sunday.
fighting for second
Most likely, Barça and Sevilla will now fight for second place. Atlético went up to the third.
Ancelotti’s positive test for COVID-19 last week meant he was unable to take his place on the sidelines and it remains to be seen whether the Italian can make the trip to London.
Madrid found the break in the 19th minute when Nolito took Eder Militao’s right foot. Benzema shot it well. Matias Dituro dove to the left.
But Celta did not flinch and shortly after halftime, equalized. Toni Kroos and Casemiro were too easily outplayed in midfield and Aspas opened up to the left for Javier Galán, whose pass into the area allowed Nolito an easy shot.
Madrid were awarded a second penalty after Rodrygo made sure to land on Jeison Murillo’s planted left leg. Benzema stepped forward again but this time he shot down the left, Dituro jumped in the same way and blocked with his right elbow.
The contest was on the line, with Madrid striving to assert their advantage. Celta could hardly believe it when, in the 70th minute, González whistled again for a third penalty shot, penalizing Kevin Vázquez for obstructing Mendy, despite the Celtic defender doing his best to get out of the way.
If Dituro had dived to the left for the third time, he could have saved, but he went to the right, Benzema to the left and Madrid hung on for victory.
Félix directed Atlético to an early lead at the Wanda Metropolitano and while Alavés equalized through Gonzalo Escalante just after the hour, three late goals sealed a comfortable home win.
Suárez converted a penalty earned by Matheus Cunha before Félix added the second, crushing the rebound after assisting Cunha. Suarez pushed in a fourth in stoppage time.