Soccer PIX: Hazard ends drought; Inter coach Conte gets red

Eden Hazard scored his first goal in almost three months while Karim Benzema bagged a brace as Real Madrid eased to a 4-1 win away to Alaves in La Liga on Saturday in the absence of coach Zinedine Zidane.

Zidane tested positive for COVID-19 the day before the game so assistant David Bettoni took charge of the team instead and his side got off to a strong start when Casemiro headed in a Toni Kroos cross in the 15th minute.

Benzema curled into the top corner in the 41st after a neat backheel lay off from Hazard, who then scored his second goal of the season and his first since netting against Huesca on Oct. 31 to further stretch Real’s advantage just before the break.

Former Real youth player Joselu pulled a goal back for Alaves in the 59th minute, powering in a header from a free kick, but Benzema rounded off the victory for second-placed Real with an exquisite solo run and goal in the 70th minute.

The victory eased the pain of Wednesday’s shock 2-1 defeat to third division Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey as well as their Spanish Super Cup loss to Athletic Bilbao and took Real on to 40 points, closing the gap with leaders Atletico Madrid to four.

Diego Simeone’s side have two games in hand, however, and can restore their advantage at the top to seven points when they play Valencia on Sunday.

“This was a great performance from us and will lift our confidence,” said Benzema after his side earned only their second victory from their last six games in all competitions.

“We know every game is difficult, we always try to put in our best performance but sometimes it’s hard when teams defend deep. But today the goals kept flowing and that’s good for everyone, especially after the week we’ve had.”

Conte sees red as Inter Milan are held to Udinese stalemate

Inter Milan missed out on the chance to go top in Serie A as coach Antonio Conte was sent off for dissent in a 0-0 draw at strugglers Udinese on Saturday.

The visitors travelled to Udine on a high after beating title rivals Juventus 2-0 last weekend but they couldn’t break down the determined hosts, who became the first team to keep a clean sheet against Inter in Serie A this season.

Inter striker Lautaro Martinez came closest when his first half shot drew a spectacular one-handed save from Juan Musso, but the visitors’ frustration showed when Conte was dismissed for dissent in stoppage time.

“We didn’t agree about the amount of stoppage time,” Conte told Sky Sports.

“The referee has to take his decisions and we have to accept them, even if we don’t agree.”

Conte’s side remain second on 41 points, two behind AC Milan at the halfway stage of the season, while Udinese are 14th on 18 points but without a win in nine games.

The Inter coach stuck with the same team that defeated Juve, but his side were flat and failed to find the net for the first time in 21 Serie A matches, a streak stretching back to a 0-0 draw against Fiorentina in July 2020.

It was a missed opportunity as a win would have moved Inter ahead of leaders AC Milan on goal difference and be named winter champions after their rivals lost 3-0 to Atalanta.

“We need to look at ourselves, we can’t think about Milan and the fact that they lost,” Conte said.

“There is room for improvement, today we could’ve been more precise. Above all we were lacking quality in the final ball, which is fundamental.

“We can and must improve from this point of view if we want to have ambitions of fighting to the end for something important.”

Martinez looked certain to score when he pounced on a loose pass and fired a shot at goal, but Musso somehow kept it out with a one-handed save.

Nicolo Barella sent a dipping volley over the bar, while the hosts also couldn’t find their range as Roberto Pereyra blasted over and Rodrigo De Paul shot narrowly wide.

Watkins breaks goal drought as Villa sink Newcastle

Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins scored his first Premier League goal in 10 games and midfielder Bertrand Traore added another to give them a 2-0 home win over struggling Newcastle United on Saturday.

It was no more than Villa deserved as they missed several chances to win by a bigger margin while the visitors lacked any edge with their midfield stifled out and unable to feed strikers Andy Carroll and Callum Wilson.

The result lifted Villa two places up to eighth on 29 points from 17 games while Newcastle dropped one place to 16th on 19 points from 19 games after a fourth successive defeat since the turn of the year.

It also stretched Newcastle’s winless run to 10 games in all competitions and piled more pressure on manager Steve Bruce, whose side were on the back foot throughout.

Watkins was delighted and conceded his barren run had dented his confidence.

“I feel like it has been a long time coming, I have been getting into the right areas and it has been frustrating,” he told Sky Sports.

“As a striker you always want to score goals, I have been unlucky and thankfully it went in today. I kept my eye on the ball and the next thing I knew it was in the back of the net.

“The goals will always come if I keep going in the box, it came off a defender’s shin tonight and fell for me.”

Villa pressed from the start and Watkins fired them into a 13th-minute lead as he beat visiting goalkeeper Karl Darlow to the ball and headed it in after Fabian Schaer failed to clear a low Matt Targett cross from the left.

Watkins had another effort correctly ruled out for marginal offside before Traore made it 2-0 in the 42nd, beating Darlow with a fine first-time shot off the underside of the bar thanks to a superb assist by Jack Grealish.

Villa kept up the pressure after the break as Darlow denied Watkins in the 48th minute and substitute Trezeguet in stoppage time, while Ross Barkley came close with an audacious back-heel and Grealish fired wide of the far post.

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