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La Liga: Real Madrid unbeaten in 21 games after derby win

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid  - La Liga

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 01: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Karim Benzema of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 01, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

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MADRID (AP) With Zinedine Zidane making all the right moves, Real Madrid added to its dominant run by defeating city rival Atletico Madrid and increasing its Spanish league lead on Saturday.

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Zidane’s changes at halftime proved crucial for Madrid as it defeated Atletico 1-0 in the capital derby for its eighth straight victory and a six-point lead over second-placed Barcelona, which hosts Levante on Sunday.

The loss virtually ended Atletico’s title hopes, as it stayed 13 points off the lead and was in danger of dropping to seventh place by the end of the weekend.

It was a mostly even match in the first half and Atletico had some of the most significant chances, including a close-range shot by Angel Correa that hit the post.

But Zidane changed the team’s formation in the second half and the game quickly turned in Madrid’s favor, with substitute Vinicius Junior starting the play that led to Karim Benzema’s winner from close range in the 56th minute.

Benzema hit a one-timer from just outside the six-yard box after a low cross from Ferland Mendy, whose run inside the area met a well-placed through ball by Vinicius Junior.

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Zidane started the match with five midfielders, with Benzema as the lone striker. The formation was first used in the Spanish Super Cup. But after the lackluster first half, he successfully changed it back to a 4-3-3 scheme with Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior coming off the bench to flank Benzema up front.

They replaced midfielders Isco and Toni Kroos, giving the team greater offensive depth and opening up the Atletico defense.

“I wasn’t happy with what I was seeing,” Zidane said. “We had to make a change. We entered the second half playing differently and we showed better attitude. We were better in all areas and deserved the victory.”

Madrid was unbeaten against Atletico in the league in seven consecutive matches, but it hadn’t defeated its rival at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in six straight games.

The win extended Madrid’s unbeaten streak in all competitions to 21 matches. One of its victories came against Atletico in a penalty shootout in the Spanish Super Cup final this month in Saudi Arabia.

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Atletico’s winless streak has reached five matches in all competitions, one of its worst stints since coach Diego Simeone arrived nearly a decade ago. The latest defeat has limited its main challenge to trying to make it back to the Champions League.

“There is reason to be concerned, of course,” Simeone said. “All we can do is keep working to try to get out of this uncomfortable situation.”

Atletico loudly complained of a penalty not awarded for the team after a challenge by Madrid midfielder Casemiro on forward Alvaro Morata in the first half.

There was a moment of silence to honor Kobe Bryant before the match.