Mourinho: "Benzema better than ever"

Real's French forward scores two for third game running in 2-0 win over Hércules

With its eyes on Lyon in the Champions League on Wednesday and Atleti in La Liga next weekend, Real Madrid was conserving energy in the Bernabéu on Saturday evening. Not that it needed to exert itself much to earn a comfortable 2-0 win against a Hércules side that has only scored once away from home in the last six months.

Scorer of both goals was Karim Benzema, the striker's third brace in as many matches - he also bagged two against Málaga and two against Racing. His first was a timely slotting home of a cross by Álvaro Arbeloa, who had been put through thanks to the vision of Mesut Özil; the second, a self-made, tight-angle strike that curved majestically inside the right post, like a ball bearing drawn to a magnet.

It's yet further evidence of the recent rebirth of the Frenchman. After months of complaints about his laziness on the field from coach José Mourinho, Benzema finally seems to have responded, looking more agile, fitter, with more rhythm in his legs and more involved in play. If before the first leg of the Champions League game against Lyon he was second choice, he's now made things more difficult for Mourinho. "I like these problems, these difficulties of not knowing who to pick," said the Portuguese coach. "Karim is well, he is better than ever, he does things that he never did on the field before. And he looks happy." If he is like this, says Benzema, it's all thanks to Mourinho.

With Cristiano Ronaldo out injured, Benzema has been partnered with Emmanuel Adebayor up front. "They have worked well," said Mourinho. "Without Cristiano the team is different, it has another philosophy and another way of playing and it needs everyone to be working collectively. They have done it. Adebayor works for Karim and Karim for Adebayor. They've pleased me."

As Hércules fell, Almería leapfrogged it into 18th after its 2-2 tie with visitor Atlético Madrid on Saturday. Kun Agüero put the rojiblancos ahead twice only to see his efforts canceled out by Albert Crusat and Henok Goitom.

Seventeenth-placed Zaragoza, meanwhile, stormed to a surprise 4-0 thrashing of third-place Valencia. Goals from Jiri Jarosik and Ander Herrera, plus two penalties from Gabi, brought down a lackluster-looking Unai Emery team that still seemed to be reeling from Wednesday's Champions League elimination by Schalke.

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