Real Madrid s Karim Benzema scores his side s opening goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Celta Vigo and Real Madrid at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo, Spain, Saturday, April 2, 2022. AP
Benzema, who also had another spot kick saved in Vigo, missed Madrid's 4-0 defeat to Barcelona before the two-week international break as he recovered from a left-leg injury.
Celta took the game to the league leaders, only to be undone by some rash defending in its area and some borderline calls by the referee. The third penalty that set up Benzema's 70th-minute winner came after a questionable foul when Ferland Mendy stumbled over the leg of Kevin Vazquez. Celta also had a goal waived off in the first half after a video review.
``The first two were penalties, but the third was not,'' Celta striker Iago Aspas said. ``Mendy was going full steam and ran over our defender. I think it was a foul in our favor.''
Madrid opened a 12-point gap over Sevilla and a 15-point advantage over Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Next up, Madrid visits London on Wednesday to start its Champions League quarterfinal with Chelsea.
Benzema's brace took his tally to 34 across all competitions, his best scoring mark since he joined Madrid 13 seasons ago. His previous best was 32 back in 2012. His remarkable campaign includes a second-half hat trick to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain from Europe's elite tournament last month.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti missed the match after testing positive for COVID-19 this week. His son, Davide Ancelotti, took his place.
Benzema put Madrid ahead in the 19th from the spot after Madrid defender Eder Militao was fouled by Nolito.
Despite falling behind early, Celta produced more scoring chances than the pacesetters.
Thibaut Courtois made an excellent one-handed save to parry a free kick by Aspas in the 23rd, after he did well to deny Brais Mendez. Thiago Galhardo thought he equalized in the 39th with a header from a pass by Nolito, but a video review revealed that Aspas in an offside position interfered with defender David Alaba's clearance attempt.
Celta's insistence paid off in the 52nd when Aspas played the ball wide to Javi Galan, who squared the ball back into the heart of the area for the unmarked Nolito to beat Courtois and make it 1-1.
After Celta's Jeison Murillo tripped substitute Rodgyro in the box, Benzema's spot kick in the 64th was saved by Dituro, who was wearing a baseball cap to help keep out the glare from the setting sun.
But a few minutes later, Dituro couldn't stop Benzema's third spot kick just inside the left post.
``I don't know if we deserved to win, in the first half I had to make two big saves,`` Courtois said. ``There were three penalties, but I think they were are correctly called.
``Winning today is important. Chelsea lost at home. It will be another great game. We have to make sure we play with intensity, which is something we sometimes are missing, and we can't be lacking that on Wednesday.''
Celta forward Santi Mina was used as a late substitute after he spent this week on trial for allegedly having raped a woman in 2017. He denies any wrongdoing. The verdict is expected in weeks.
Jose Morales scored twice to lead Levante's 2-0 win over Villarreal and breathe some life into its bid to avoid relegation. Levante was left five points from safety.
Villarreal's loss comes before it hosts Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday.
Javier Aguirre's debut as Mallorca's new coach ended with a 1-0 loss at Getafe after the host scored late.
Aguirre, a veteran coach with vast experience in Spain who has twice led the national team of his native Mexico, replaced Luis Garcia Plaza. But he could not stop the Balearic Island team from suffering a seventh consecutive loss.
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