Benzema helps Real Madrid beat Sevilla to ease pressure on Zidane
Benzema nodded home Real’s second-half winner.
Real Madrid eased the pressure on manager Zinedine Zidane by moving level on points at the top of LaLiga following a 1-0 win at in-form Sevilla.
Karim Benzema’s second-half header settled a tight encounter at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan as Real bounced back from Wednesday’s heavy Champions League loss to Paris St Germain.
The result, which puts Real on 11 points alongside early leaders Athletic Bilbao, inflicted a first loss on Sevilla head coach Julen Lopetegui, who was sacked by Real 11 months ago.
Substitute Javier Hernandez thought he had salvaged a late draw for the hosts but his deft finish was correctly ruled out for offside.
Under-fire Real boss Zidane dismissed questions about his future in the build-up to the game in Andalusia.
Pressure had increased on the Frenchman after last season’s struggles and a low-key start this term were followed by a miserable midweek trip to the French capital.
Reports suggested he could be on his way out of the Bernabeu only six months after returning to the club he guided to three European crowns in his previous spell.
However, Barcelona’s shock reverse at Granada on Saturday – the Catalan club’s second LaLiga defeat of the season – possibly diverted the immediate attention away from him, before this slender success in southern Spain strengthened his hopes of staying on.
Eden Hazard, who managed the opening 70 minutes at the Parc des Princes, was handed his first league start for Real, forming a potent three-pronged attack with Gareth Bale and Benzema, with James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos tasked with supplying the ammunition.
Sevilla’s combative midfielder Ever Banega appeared keen to curtail Real’s creative talents and was booked during a fairly uneventful opening half an hour for a crunching challenge which left both Kroos and James crumpled on the deck.
Zidane’s opposite number Lopetegui was then shown a yellow card for appealing for Bale to be booked for a fairly innocuous challenge on Real loanee Sergio Reguilon.
Lopetegui is fully aware of the pressures of working for Real having lasted less than four months in charge of the 33-time Spanish champions at the start of last season.
The former Spain coach, who had played down talk of exacting revenge on Real, had enjoyed an impressive, unbeaten start with his new club, taking 10 points from a possible 12 to steer them to the top of the table ahead of the weekend’s matches.
His side, who are a now point off the summit in fifth place, were seriously tested for the first time 10 minutes before half-time when former Chelsea man Hazard was slipped in by Benzema only to denied by Tomas Vaclik from a tight angle.
Czech goalkeeper Vaclik later saved comfortably from Bale’s ambitious long-range free-kick before a tetchy, forgettable first half drew to a close.
There continued to be little between the sides, until Benzema broke the deadlock with a quality finish in the 64th minute.
French striker Benzema expertly nodded the ball back across Vaclik and into the right corner after right-back Dani Carvajal produced an inviting cross from the by-line.
Lopetegui threw on former Premier League forwards Hernandez and Nolito in the hope of preserving his unbeaten record.
Former Manchester United and West Ham striker Hernandez flicked the ball in home from close range three minutes from time but could have no complaints about it being chalked off.
Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois ultimately remained untested as the hosts finished the game without registering an attempt on target.