|Benzema made light of Ronaldo's absence and some indifferent early-season form to score Real's winners [Reuters]
Karim Benzema scored twice and Emmanuel Adebayor got his first goal for the club as Real Madrid closed the gap on Barcelona to seven points with a 3-1 win at Racing Santander in the Spanish Primera Division.
With leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo out with an injury, Madrid turned to German playmaker Mesut Ozil to steer the attack with Benzema and Adebayor playing together as strikers for the first time.
Ozil responded with a pair of beautiful assists for Adebayor in the 23rd minute and Benzema in the 27th as Madrid dominated early on.
After a toothless first half from Racing, Kennedy Bakircioglu grabbed one back for the hosts in the 70th.
But Benzema scored his seventh goal of the season five minutes later to seal the victory.
Jose Mourinho's team had recently struggled away from Santiago Bernabeu stadium, having won once in four previous outings.
The woodwork and some inspired goalkeeping by Antonio "Tono" Rodriguez saved Racing from a rout in the first half as Madrid barely let them touch the ball.
Xabi Alonso hit the crossbar with a long free kick in the 13th minute, and Tono stretched to deflect wide what appeared to be a sure goal by Marcelo after Angel Di Maria had played the Brazilian left back through.
Two minutes after Benzema had rattled the crossbar with a long strike, Ozil combined with his strikers before leaving Adebayor with an open goal to fire into.
It was Benzema's turn four minutes later, Ozil playing him through with an exquisite side-footed pass for the France striker to fire under Tono to double Madrid's lead.
Racing wasted a chance to halve the deficit when Giovani Dos Santos dribbled into the area and was brought down by Xabi Alonso, but Iker Casillas blocked Pablo Pinillos' poor spot kick in the 53rd minute.
Kennedy made it 2-1 with a left-footed strike from inside the area after his team's best buildup of the contest, but Benzema scored Madrid's third with a well-placed strike off a pass from Di Maria to crush any thoughts of a comeback.
Tono saved a penalty by Adebayor in the 85th after Marc Torrejon had fouled Di Maria in the area.
Earlier a Sevilla own-goal and a late penalty from Andoni Iraola gave Athletic Bilbao a 2-0 home win which lifted them to fifth in La Liga.
The Basque club moved on to 41 points from 27 games, nine short of Villarreal and the last Champions League qualification slot.
Sevilla's Argentine defender Federico Fazio knocked a cross into his own net with his knee after 66 minutes, in a bruising encounter at San Mames.
Julien Escude brought down Oscar de Marcos for a penalty which Iraola, wearing a head bandage after a collision with Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo, converted in the 88th.
Negredo and strike partner Luis Fabiano both had to be substituted with injuries, while Bilbao's Gaizka Toquero also had to exit due to injury.
Earlier, Levante striker Felipe Caicedo, on loan from Manchester City, bagged his 11th goal of the campaign, a first-half header giving his side a 1-0 home victory over misfiring Espanyol.
The Barcelona-based side have lost six of their last seven games and dropped further off the pace in the race for the Champions League, going down to sixth with 40 points.
Malaga slipped back to the foot of the standings on 23 points with a 1-0 home defeat by Osasuna, when Sergio Fernandez scored at the end to give the Navarans their first away win of the season.
Almeria climbed two points above Malaga into 19th with a 2-1 comeback win at Hercules, who now occupy the last relegation place in 18th on 26 points. Sporting Gijon moved out of the bottom three with a 2-0 home win over Getafe.