MADRID: Not even an off-day for Karim Benzema was enough to keep Real Madrid from moving closer to clinching the Spanish league title.
Benzema missed two penalty kicks seven minutes apart in the second half but Madrid went on to earn a 3-1 win at Osasuna Wednesday to open a 17-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid, which can no longer catch their rival as both teams have five games left to play. Barcelona are 18 points back but have seven games left to play, meaning they still have a theoretical chance to catch Madrid.
“It was another small step toward reaching our objective,” Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde said. “It was a difficult first half but we corrected our mistakes and finished playing well.”
Benzema went scoreless for only the second time in the last 11 games in all competitions. Both of his penalty kicks were saved by Osasuna goalkeeper Sergio Herrera in the 52nd and 59th minutes. He targeted both of his shots to the same side, with Herrera diving to his right to make the saves.
“It’s not a big deal,” Valverde said. “It can happen. He has scored many goals for us but today it wasn’t meant to be. We know that he will still score a lot in the remaining matches this season.”
Benzema is the league’s leading scorer with 25 goals and has netted 15 times in the last 10 matches in all competitions. The French striker scored hat tricks and decisive goals to help Madrid reach the Champions League semifinals.
Madrid defender David Alaba opened the scoring in the 12th minute after an assist by Benzema, and forward Marco Asensio added to the lead in the 45th after the hosts had equalized through Ante Budimir in the 13th. Lucas Vázquez sealed the victory in stoppage time.
Osasuna, sitting in ninth place and coming off two straight victories, had a goal disallowed for offside in the 32nd.
Alaba had to be substituted at halftime because of an injury, creating a concern ahead of Madrid’s first leg against Manchester City in the semifinals of the Champions League next week.
Atlético Madrid’s struggles in attack continued in a 0-0 draw at home against relegation-threatened Granada.
It was the fourth time in the last five matches that Atlético failed to score. It had been winless in three games in a row before a last-minute 2-1 win against Espanyol on Sunday.
The result left Diego Simeone’s team in second place, one point ahead of both Barcelona and Sevilla. The Catalan club visits sixth-place Real Sociedad on Thursday, while Sevilla play at second-to-last place Levante.
Atlético opened a four-point cushion over fifth-place Real Betis, the first team outside the Champions League qualification places. Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis lost 1-0 to Elche at home on Tuesday.
Granada had lost two in a row and had conceded 12 goals in its last four matches, but Atlético managed only one shot on target from 22 total attempts at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Granada coach Aitor Karanka made his debut. The team stayed in the relegation zone despite the draw, one point from safety in 18th place.
Atlético has only 11 points of 30 possible against the bottom five clubs in the standings — Mallorca, Cádiz, Granada, Levante and Alavés.
Getafe moved five points clear of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win at Celta Vigo, with Borja Mayoral scoring a goal in each half.
It was the first away win for Getafe after 16 consecutive matches without a road victory, dating to last season.
Sitting in 14th place, Getafe is unbeaten in four straight league games.
Celta, in 11th place, lost its second in a row at home.