There you go – Real Madrid were all set to digest another humiliation at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, but in the closing stages two moments of individual brilliance saved the day for the Los Blancos. This time around the savior was that old warhorse again – Karim Benzema just keeping the title hopes of Real Madrid alive time and again.

Real Madrid have been unbeaten in six league games but have drawn the last two of those, including a late 1-1 tie at leaders Atletico Madrid last week. Atleti won their game in hand in midweek and are eight points clear of Los Blancos, who occupy third place.

Elche are one point above the relegation zone heading into this match after pulling off a shock 2-1 win against Sevilla last week. Fran Escriba’s charges have won two of their last four games; in fact, they visited Madrid with the purpose to pull off another shocking outcome.

And at one point they were almost there fulfilling their wish.

Again, for the record, Real Madrid have not lost any of their last nine games against Elche in La Liga, since a 3-1 loss in March 1978. The Los Blancos have played 21 home games in La Liga against Elche without losing any of them.

Zinedine Zidane experimented by unleashing the 3-5-2 (at times 3-4-3) formation. This is a good formation and the likes of Ronald Koeman have been exploiting this formation with a better outcome, but in the case of Madrid, this formation is yet to reap a rich harvest.

Sergio Ramos, Nacho Fernadez, and Raphael Varane formed the back three with Casemiro in front of them providing the ultra protection. Fede Valverde and Isco placed n the central midfield region aided by the two wing-backs: Ferland Mendy and Lucas Vazquez. Vinicius Junior was the partner of Benzema upfront.

Real Madrid controlled the ball and at one point they had eight players n the outfield of the opposition half in search of a goal.

Benzema thought about shooting, declined and the attack broke down with Mendy’s intercepted cross.

Casemiro, positioned as a makeshift center-back, comfortably dealt with a low cross into the box from the left. Madrid broke but Vazquez kicked the ball out of play when attempting to find Benzema. Vinicius made some brilliant runs inside-out to break the resistance while Isco was trying to aid the fuel from that midfield – but sadly, in the final third, there was no spark from the hosts.

The opening 35 minutes witnessed just one shot on target by the hosts.

Then there was a break on the counter – Vinicius was played into space down the right and picked out Benzema with a low cross, but the striker failed to adjust his feet and fired wide of the target from a good position.

In the added time of the first half Isco and Valverde scuffed opportunities.

Elche were happy to hold the visitors off and their mid-block was working even though they were caught on the counter, but the lack of sharpness from the visitors did not do enough damage for the Los Blancos.

After the break, Elche came out with new energy and Zidane’s 3-5-2 was failing to maintain its shape under pressure. The visitors pressed higher – Carrillo had a chance to put Elche in front but he miscued the shot and Thibaut Courtois stuck up an arm to block the effort. From the same attack, the visitors want a penalty for a Ramos challenge on Carrillo in the box, but the referee did not agree.

Two minutes later, Elche went ahead and it was coming.

Morente swung a corner to the edge of the six-yard box and Calvo positioned himself in front of Varane to power a header in off the underside of the crossbar. Casemiro went down in the box, but the referee allows the goal to stand.

Zidane had enough with his experiments – he made three substitutions and Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Rodrygo Goes were introduced.

Real Madrid were playing with a 4-3-3 formation and Casemiro was back in the midfield.

Now, Real were operating with a lot of intent and each player started to put the foot on the paddle and pressurize the Elche backline.

Kroos delivered a good free-kick from deep that Casemiro met with a header at full stretch – but not fruitful enough. Rodrygo, on the right, was effective and quick enough to find those half-spaces and get those crosses into the center for the attackers, but they just could not connect.

Then Kroos played a corner short to Modric, who delivered a teasing cross into the six-yard box for Benzema to head home despite being surrounded by Elche players.

Casemiro advanced forward and at first, attempted a long-range shot which went wide and then headed wide.

In the last thirty minutes, Madrid showed more purpose than the first half.

In the closing stages unleashed a powerful shot on target from 25-yard that was too hot for Badia to handle, but he denied Nacho.

And in the injury time, Rodrygo chested the ball into Benzema’s path and he thumped a fine shot across Badia and in off the far post from 16 yards out.

That was the strike of the match and a life-saver for Zidane and Real Madrid.

A much-needed victory for Real Madrid within five points of leaders Atletico Madrid.

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