‘I’m not a magician,’ said Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane before the game. But his team played like they had been touched by a magic wand, ending their run of four consecutive draws in spectacular fashion, with Real Betis the victims.
They had dropped points against Villarreal, Las Palmas, Borussia Dortmund and Eibar in their most recent matches, with pressure mounting on Zidane to stop the rot and bring Madrid back to winning ways.
The coach himself had lamented how his team never seemed to start games well, believing it to be a psychological issue, but they began this match at the Benito Villamarin as they meant to go on.
Toni Kroos whipped in a free-kick from the left and Raphael Varane got across his man to plant a header in the far corner, in the fourth minute.
It was the perfect antidote to the recent run of disappointing results and Madrid continued to push for more.
Gareth Bale nearly grabbed the second but a combination of the post and Antonio Adan kept him out as Madrid looked to put the game to bed not long after it had even begun.
Kroos set up the second too, slipping in Benzema down the left and the Frenchman had the simple task of slotting home to double Madrid’s lead.
Los Blancos are dealing with various injury absences at the moment, including Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos, but one of their finest players was returning left back Marcelo, who notched the third goal.
He has been out since September 21, the same day Barcelona’s Lionel Messi got injured. While nobody would compare the two, he has proven as big a miss for Madrid as Messi was for the Catalans.
Marcelo’s raids down the left give Madrid an extra attacking outlet and can help overload defences, although his strike came from a different position.
In the box already—and marginally offside—he controlled Benzema’s deflected shot brilliantly with his shoulder before firing the ball clumsily into the ground and over the goalkeeper.
If Marcelo’s finish was ugly, Madrid’s fourth was a thing of beauty. Los Blancos surged downfield on a devastating counter-attack, which ended with Pepe sliding the ball across for Isco to tuck home to give his side an unsurmountable lead at the interval.
Gus Poyet’s Betis began the second half like how Madrid started the first and after Joaquin had an effort scrambled off the line, Alvaro Cejudo found the net for the hosts.
It was a well worked goal after a rare Pepe error, with the Portuguese centre back giving the ball away with a misplaced pass, before Joaquin fed Cejudo to fire home.
However, unlike in Madrid’s 5-2 win over Osasuna in which the minnows threatened at one stage to launch a comeback as Zidane’s team wavered, Madrid didn’t leave any room for doubt here.
Seven minutes later Isco scored his second of the game to reassert his side’s dominance, curling sumptuously into the top right corner after Benzema failed to reach Ronaldo’s cross.
This was a fine team performance from Real Madrid, for a side that is often accused of having the star players’ individual turns being how they settle games. They were 5-1 up and neither Bale nor Ronaldo were on the scoresheet—yet.
Ronaldo had a run-in with the media in training on Friday, booting a ball at them after he was nutmegged by Danilo during the rondos and shouting that they would have ‘material for two days’ now.
He gave them something else to write about with this well-taken strike, surging away from his man before lashing past Adan to continue the good form in front of goal he showed with Portugal.
This victory sends them level with Atletico at the top of La Liga on 18 points, leapfrogging Sevilla and Barcelona, both of whom won earlier on Saturday.
When Madrid play like this they are unstoppable. The trick for Zidane is finding out how to make it happen more often, magic or otherwise.