By Keeghann Sinanan, Goal.com
Real Madrid potentially lost more ground at the top of the table after falling 1-0 to Real Betis at Estadio Benito Villamarin on Saturday evening, leaving its title defense in tatters.
Benat scored the only goal of the game, drilling home from the edge of the area after a lapse at the back from los Blancos, who, despite large spells of pressure in the second half, could not find a way through the dogged defensive ranks of a home side that now move joint-fourth in the standings.
More significantly, though, the result means that should league leader Barcelona emerge victorious at Levante on Sunday, then third-placed Madrid will find itself facing an 11-point gap to make up on the Catalans, with a crucial derby against second-placed Atletico Madrid to come in a week's time.
Jose Mourinho made one change to the side that played out a 1-1 draw at Manchester City midweek, with Mesut Ozil stepping into the side to replace Luka Modric.
The visitors fashioned the first chance in the ninth minute when a determined run down the wing by Cristiano Ronaldo saw him tee up Sami Khedira at the edge of the area, but the he could not find the target.
The German international was then found wanting 17 minutes in as he was brushed off with ease by Benat, who picked his spot superbly at the edge of the area and drilled into the bottom corner - the opening coming after Angel Di Maria had given the ball away.
Betis was playing with great spirit, and with the home fans in full voice, found another way through when Ruben Castro raced clear down the left, but saw his lash across goal tipped away from danger by Iker Casillas.
Madrid finally began to show some positibe signs after the half hour mark, and its best opening of the half came when a sublime one-two between Karim Benzema and Mesut Ozil saw the latter play in Di Maria, whose shot clipped the bar.
It should have been level nine minutes before the break after Benzema turned home Xabi Alonso's free kick, but the goal was disallowed for offside despite the Frenchman appearing to be level with the last defender on replays.
But sloppiness and lethargy were endemic throughout the Madrid performance in the first half, as emphasized when Casillas gave the ball away in a dangerous position after electing to engage in keep-ups on his own goal line.
Mourinho could see that his team was in need of a jolt at the break, and hauled off Khedira and Ozil for Modric and Kaka respectively to start the second half.
The result was a more urgent performance in the attacking third, though despite the improved endeavor, Madrid still lacked a cutting edge in front of goal.
Benzema seemed poised to tap in Ronaldo's center on the hour mark, but Antonio Amaya did just enough to touch the ball out of the Frenchman's path.
Kaka tried his luck moments later with a strong effort from 25 yards out, but Adrian was equal to it and pushed away from danger.
But Madrid's eagerness to get forward left gaps at the back, and Betis had two opportunities to pounce on the break. First, Salva Sevilla shot wide after finding space inside the area, before substitute Jorge Molina played in Ruben Castro, who blazed over from inside the box.
Still, the visitors had chances late to get back into the game. Ronaldo's free kick forced the best out of Adrian, who was on his game again to deny Pepe's header from the resulting corner with nine minutes remaining.
But time simply ran out for Madrid, which could not salvage anything from the game, and must now pick itself up in time for the now must-win local derby at home against Atletico next weekend.
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