BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Vinícius Júnior replaced Karim Benzema scoring two goals to help Real Madrid win 2-1 at Elche at 10 on Saturday and join two other teams atop a hotly contested Spanish league.
Sevilla have kept pace with Madrid by beating Osasuna 2-0, while Real Sociedad are tied on points with the other two leaders before hosting Athletic Bilbao in a regional derby on Sunday.
Vinícius opened the scoring in Elche with a goal in the 22nd minute. After midfielder Raúl Guti was sent off for a second warning, the Brazilian winger then put the result beyond doubt in the 73rd.
Elche substitute Pere Milla fell behind with four minutes to go, but that wasn’t enough to keep his side unbeaten at home this season.
Vinícius, 21, once again showed a much better finish. The brace brought its total in all competitions to nine in 14 appearances this season, up from six goals in 47 outings in 2020-21.
“It is thanks to the work I have provided since arriving,” said Vinícius, who made his debut for Madrid at the age of 18 after the club secured his transfer from Brazilian Flamengo at the age 16 years old.
Carlo Ancelotti left Benzema to rest ahead of Madrid’s Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.
Madrid’s only victory in their last four league games came last weekend when they won 2-1 at Barcelona.
Mariano Díaz played his first minutes of the season in place of Benzema. The rarely used striker showed his reflexes were still sharp when he used his heel to hit a pass from Casemiro in Vinícius’ path to shoot under Kiko Casilla.
Elche almost equalized thanks to Lucas Boyé. The forward stole the ball from David Alaba in the box, but Lucas Pérez lost a pass behind by Javier Pastore that left him alone with only Thibaut Courtois to beat.
Elche was pushing to equalize when Guti made a dangerous tackle on Toni Kroos and was sent off in the 63rd.
Vinícius finished Elche by kicking the ball over Casilla from a tight angle after Luka Modric cleared him with just one touch.
Milla scored against the tide of play when Casemiro’s pass near his area was intercepted, leaving the striker alone to beat Courtois.
Madrid lost striker Rodrygo in the opening minutes due to what appeared to be a leg injury.
Barcelona are playing their first game since Ronald Koeman’s sacking later on Saturday when interim coach Sergi Barjuan leads the squad against Alavés at Camp Nou. Villarreal visits Valencia.
On Sunday, Real Betis can equalize with Madrid, Sociedad and Sevilla if they beat Atlético Madrid.
Sevilla ended Osasuna’s unbeaten road record this season with one goal in every half in the pouring rain at the Sánchez Pizjuán stadium.
Defender Diego Carlos gave the hosts the advantage in the 40th by heading into the corner of Ivan Rakitic. Lucas Ocampos added a second after a defensive error in the 60th.
Osasuna was left in seventh place after his first loss in six away games.
More AP football: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports