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Benzema's brace earns him 9/10 as Real Madrid stroll while Asensio's comeback cameo steals the show

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Hazard getting 'fitter and fitter' for Real Madrid (1:29)

Frank Leboeuf reacts to Real Madrid's 3-0 win over Valencia, noting Eden Hazard's improved conditioning. (1:29)

A brace from Karim Benzema and a goal from Marco Asensio on his return from injury gave Real Madrid a 3-0 win over Valencia on Thursday to keep pace with Barcelona at the top of La Liga.

Both goalkeepers were kept busy in a first half that saw Eden Hazard have an early shot saved and Thibaut Courtois tip a Rodrigo shot on to the post, before the Valencia forward had a goal ruled out for offside. Benzema broke the deadlock with an hour played, while Asensio volleyed Madrid into a two-goal lead with his first touch just seconds after coming off the bench, before turning provider for Benzema late on.

Positives

Real Madrid had plenty of shots on goal in the first half -- the most without scoring, in fact, of any game under Zinedine Zidane -- but couldn't find the net. The most encouraging thing about this display was that they didn't panic, kept going, and eventually made the breakthrough. This was the team's first big test since La Liga's return, after a straightforward three points over Eibar at the weekend, and they came through it for a hard-earned win.

At the back, the form of Courtois is hugely encouraging. The keeper has conceded just 17 league goals this season, the best record in the division. Further forward, the return of Asensio with a goal and assist highlights the broad range of attacking options at Zidane's disposal.

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Negatives

Madrid looked rattled at times in the first half, when only an outstanding Courtois save and a much-debated offside call prevented Valencia from taking the lead. It was a much less convincing opening 45-minute display than the team had produced against Eibar, which was rectified after the interval.

Manager rating out of 10 (6 is average)

7 -- Zidane made just two changes to the team that beat Eibar, with Ferland Mendy and Federico Valverde replacing Marcelo and Rodrygo. That meant a change of system, going from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2. It's a system that has served Zidane well in big games in the past, but it sometimes means the team lacks width and pace. As the game went on, the decision proved to be the right one, and Zidane's substitutions paid off too, with Asensio and Vinicius making an immediate impact.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 8 -- Made an excellent early stop from Rodrigo and followed it up with an impressive save to deny Geoffrey Kondogbia before half-time. When Courtois is in this kind of form, he looks close to unbeatable.

DF Dani Carvajal, 8 -- There were last-minute doubts about his inclusion but Carvajal dispelled them immediately. Came up with an unexpected trick to create a first-half opportunity. The right-back is a consistent performer and given the lack of alternatives, it's just as well.

DF Raphael Varane, 6 -- Varane is lightning quick, but even he had a difficult time up against Rodrigo, who stretched the Real Madrid defence throughout the first half.

DF Sergio Ramos, 7 -- The captain was relieved to see Rodrigo's first-half goal ruled out thanks to VAR, having let the forward go in the box, and improved as the game went on.

DF Ferland Mendy, 8 -- Tends to offer less than Marcelo going forward, but more solidity in defence, and his selection was meant to nullify Spain's best young winger Ferran Torres. Got forward well late on to provide an assist for Asensio.

MF Casemiro, 7 -- Somehow still one yellow card away from suspension, the Brazilian could easily have been booked for an early challenge on Torres.

MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- Had a first-half shot saved from almost the exact same position he scored from on Sunday. Kroos was quietly effective this time.

MF Luka Modric, 8 -- The 34-year-old was starting his second game in four days, but you wouldn't know it. Played a key role in Madrid's opener and later tested Jasper Cillessen from distance. Ageless.

MF Federico Valverde, 5 -- Played on the right of Zidane's midfield four. Valverde loses too much of what makes him special when restricted to the wing. Drifted inside more in the second half before being withdrawn.

FW Eden Hazard, 8 -- Very positive signs again. Hazard had the best early chance of the game, set up by Benzema, and created the opening goal for the French striker, grabbing his second assist in as many games.

FW Karim Benzema, 9 -- Scored his 15th and 16th league goals of the season, overtaking the legendary Ferenc Puskas in Real Madrid's all-time scoring charts. Madrid are at their best when Benzema and Hazard combine, and their partnership will be decisive in what the team can achieve this season.

Substitutes

FW Marco Asensio, NR -- His first appearance since a bad knee ligament injury in July 2019, Asensio was soon displaying a huge grin after scoring with his very first touch, and added an assist for Benzema late on.

FW Vinicius Junior, NR -- Replaced Hazard for the last 10 minutes. Looked keen to impress having not started either game so far.