London: Karim Benzema saved Real Madrid’s blushes by scoring a superb late goal to snatch a 3-2 win at home to La Liga basement side Huesca on Sunday and keep up coach Zinedine Zidane’s perfect start since the Frenchman returned to the club.
The last-gasp win left Madrid third in the standings with 57 points after 29 games, while second-placed Atletico Madrid have 59 and runaway leaders Barcelona are on 69.
Huesca took a shock lead in the third minute of their first league visit to the Bernabeu when Cucho Hernandez smashed a cross from Ezequiel Avila past goalkeeper Luca Zidane, who was surprisingly brought into the team by his father.
Madrid drew level in the 25th when Isco knocked home a cross from full debutant Brahim Diaz to score for the second time in two games since being brought back into the team by Zidane, having been frozen out by former coach Santiago Solari.
Real went ahead after the hour mark with an acrobatic finish from close range by Dani Ceballos and Gareth Bale should have clinched victory when he slid in to meet a cross from a few metres out but somehow sent the ball over the bar.
Huesca were always threatening and seized their moment in the 74th with a short corner routine, Xabier Etxeita equalising with an unorthodox header.
But Madrid averted an embarrassing slip-up in Zidane’s second game back at the Bernabeu thanks to his compatriot Benzema, who curled the ball into the top corner in the 89th.
“It was a crazy game but great for those who came to watch it,” Zidane told reporters.
Huesca’s Cucho Hernandez shoots a free-kick against Real Madrid’s defensive wall
“We suffered a lot but you have to congratulate our opponents for how they played, they are bottom and they put in a great performance. They were causing us problems right until the end but we got a good result which we needed for our morale.”
The defeat left Huesca rooted to the bottom of the table on 22 points, seven away from escaping the relegation zone.
“It’s a bitter defeat because we did enough to take points from a stadium as great as this one, we tried to take the game to Madrid and now we’re disappointed but happy with the effort our players made,” said Huesca assistant coach Jaime Ramos.
There were over 30,000 empty seats at the Bernabeu for Zidane’s second game back in charge following a 2-0 win over Celta Vigo two weeks ago and the sense that this game meant little to Madrid was underlined by Zidane’s experimental team.
Luka Modric, Raphael Varane and Marco Asensio were all left out of the matchday squad while Zidane picked his son Luca in goal ahead of Keylor Navas, handing him his first game for the first team in over 10 months.
He also gave a full debut to 19-year-old Brahim, who has barely featured since signing from ManchesterCity in January.
“(First choice keeper Thibaut) Courtois was injured and Keylor (Navas) had been with Costa Rica and needed a bit of rest so I played the third goalkeeper,” Zidane added.
“We took advantage of the fact a lot of players had been on international duty to give others a chance and they did well. Now we want to win all the games we have left.”