Real Madrid held their nerve to beat Osasuna 2-0 in La Liga on Saturday as Eden Hazard made his first start since January, avoiding Zinedine Zidane choosing him for the second leg of the Champions League semi-final Wednesday against Chelsea. After making a brief appearance on the bench in the first leg last week, Hazard played 72 minutes at Valdebebas and could now face his former club early in the pivotal second leg at Stamford Bridge. “He was very good,” Zidane said. “He played near Karim (Benzema), they tried things and I was very happy with him.”
Real Madrid have everything to do against Chelsea after winning the opening game 1-1 and they are also playing a catch-up in La Liga, after Atletico Madrid claimed a 1-0 win over struggling Elche.
Fidel Chaves d’Elche missed a 91st-minute penalty in what could prove to be a pivotal moment in Spain’s thrilling title race, with Atletico retaining their two-point lead over Real Madrid and carrying the five-way advantage over Barcelona.
Barca travel to Valencia on Sunday while Sevilla, who are now six points behind, play their game in hand on Monday against Athletic Bilbao.
“We are entering a defining period and every victory is a very important step,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
Atletico’s victory meant that Real Madrid’s victory was essential and they had to work hard against a determined Osasuna side, with Eder Militao breaking the deadlock in the 76th minute before Casemiro made it two to four minutes later.
Zidane’s side have been stretched by absentees in recent weeks and he left Luka Modric and Toni Kroos on the bench, while giving Hazard his first start since January 30.
There could be new concern, however, after defender Raphael Varane was taken out at half-time.
“I hope it’s a small thing but at the moment I can’t say it,” Zidane said.
Hazard’s best chance fell on a Marcelo cross, but he failed to catch the volley cleanly, tackling it to the ground and goalkeeper Sergio Herrera brilliantly managed to save.
Benzema had already come close and Militao had a pair of heads early in the second half which again drew Herrera into action.
The danger vanished and was gone with 18 minutes remaining. Osasuna was also tiring and Madrid finally made the breakthrough, Militao made him lucky the third time, getting up high to head to the corner of Isco.
Four minutes later it was two, Benzema coming in from the left and slipping a reverse pass to Casemiro, who stretched to control and instead pushed the ball straight into the net.
– Atletico ahead of Elche –
Elche wasted two golden chances to snatch a draw against Atletico.
First Antonio Barragan flew at close range, then Marcos Llorente’s handball gave Fidel a chance on the spot, but he hit the post.
“I don’t believe in luck,” Llorente said. “If he hadn’t hit the post I think Oblak would have made it to the shot. We have the points and that gives us a lot of strength to go forward.”
Atletico are now guaranteed to be ahead of Barca when they kick off at Camp Nou next Saturday.
Real Madrid will also face Sevilla at Valdebebas a day later in a tight weekend at the top, but the resistance of 18th-placed Elche against the La Liga favorites suggests the race may well end.
Simeone’s side were denied three times in the first half, Luis Suarez missed a golden chance before having a goal and a penalty ruled out by VAR.
Finally, Atletico broke through, with Yannick Carrasco sneaking to the left before spotting the arrival of Llorente, whose shot deflected Josema Sanchez on entering.
Barragan should have equalized with five minutes remaining when the ball returned to him from six yards, but somehow he flew.
There was more drama to come when Victor Rodriguez’s cross struck leaping Llorente’s hand into the box and Fidel stepped up to secure a point. Instead, he found the outside of the post.
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