Tensions are always high in Spain’s biggest footballing offering, and this 254th edition of El Clasico was no different with those in white arriving bloody-nosed after losing the last three meetings against their Catalan counterparts.
Perhaps propelled by that recent record, Barcelona were lightning out of the traps and almost landed a haymaker within seconds of the bell after the ball only marginally escaped a prowling Ferran Torres.
Despite the hosts’ advances, it was Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid who created the next opportunity but failed to take the lead due to the exploits of Ronald Araujo who denied Vinicius Junior a tap-in.
The Uruguayan’s defensive prowess set the tone for a stifled first half, but a defence that had only conceded two LaLiga goals here this season was undone after a chaotic passage of play. Firstly, Thibaut Courtois reacted wonderfully to thwart Robert Lewandowski’s volley before a surgical Real counter-attack was rounded off by Vinicius.
Xavi, who picked up a yellow card for his first-half protestations, will have reminded his troops that they came from behind to win in their last meeting.
His words did not get the desired response in the second period however, as just minutes after the break Luka Modric glided through the Barca lines before teeing up Benzema, who marked his 14th Clasico goal with a sweeping finish.
Things would quickly go from bad to worse for the Blaugrana when Franck Kessie clumsily brought down Vinicius in the penalty area, allowing Benzema to step up and strike home from the spot.
The Barcelona backline were now in free fall with Real smelling an opportunity to rub salt into the wounds of their rivals, who might have been dreaming of a domestic treble before this cruel reality check.
Whilst Real were able to saunter under the Camp Nou lights, that didn’t stop them adding to the scoreline as Benzema showed intricate footwork before dinking the ball over Marc-Andre ter Stegen for his second hat-trick in as many outings.
That capped off a thoroughly enjoyable night for Ancelotti, whose Madrid men will arrive as strong favourites for a cup final matchup with Osasuna in May.