The old guard stepped up for reigning La Liga champions Real Madrid in their 3--1 victory against Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday.

Real Madrid is now in third place but sits level on points with leaders Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid. However, Atletico has two games on hand, having played only 11 games so far. Both La Real Los Blancos have played 13 games each, with all three teams holding 26 points.

The match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao was physical and action packed, with Raul Garcia getting sent off in the 13th minute following two bookings for fouls on Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos. The German then added insult to injury by scoring a world-class goal for Real Madrid to take the lead just before the half-time break.

Bilbao kept things exciting after Ander Capa's shot was saved by Thibaut Courtois. He later broke through for the equaliser, keeping the game open until Karim Benzema decided to step up. The Frenchman linked up with Vinicius Jr. to score a header in the 74th minute which gave Real Madrid the 2-1 lead.

Benzema completed his brace in stoppage time after drilling in an assist from Luka Modric. The third goal came just moments after Bilbao nearly equalised through an effort by Mikel Vesga.

This is Real Madrid's fourth consecutive win in all competitions, including a victory in last weekend's Madrid derby. They also defeated Borussia Monchengladbach in the UEFA Champions League, which saw them winning the group and advancing into the last 16.

The turnaround comes just weeks after manager Zinedine Zidane's job appeared to have been on the line as media speculated that he might be sacked if Real Madrid got eliminated from the Champions League. All that is behind them now, as the team appears to back on the right track in their campaign to defend their La Liga title. They are also still in the running to clinch a record 14th UEFA Champions League title, and will be facing Atalanta in the round of 16.

Karim Benzema and Zinedine Zidane
Moment of magic: Karim Benzema seen here with Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane AFP / JAVIER SORIANO