Gonzalo Higuain’s late goal gave Real Madrid a 1-0 win at Sporting Gijon to stay top of the Spanish league on Sunday.
Higuain darted in with eight minutes to play to tap in the rebound of a header from Benzema that goalkeeper Juan Pablo Colinas could not control.
"It was a very difficult game, but the team was well positioned on the pitch," said Madrid captain Iker Casillas.
The win moved Madrid to 29 points, one ahead of Barcelona after it beat third-place Villarreal 3-1 on Saturday.
Madrid had the most scoring chances, but an inspired Colinas kept Sporting in the match until the final stretch.
Higuain hit the post in the 10th minute, and fellow Argentina forward Angel Di Maria shot over the crossbar from close range shortly after.
In Sporting’s most threatening approach in the first half, striker Gaston Sangoy found Diego Castro just outside the six-yard box but Pepe was quick to block his attempt in the 21st.
"In the first half, we were affected by the confusion on the field," said Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka, who was in charge with Jose Mourinho serving the first of a two-game ban for insulting the referee in the Copa Del Rey win over Murcia midweek.
"It was an important game to win the three points."
Madrid continued to dominate possession, and an active Higuain had a goal disallowed for offside in the 55th. A minute later, Sangoy showed pace and hit a shot from a tight angle that passed in front of Casilla’s goal.
Colinas made a great save in a one-one-one challenge with Higuain in the 68th, and on the very next play, Sangoy again saw his crossing shot skip across the area and barely miss the far post.
The Sporting goalkeeper blocked a sharp strike from Karim Benzema, who came on in the second half for Di Maria, with 15 minutes to play.
A minute after Higuain’s goal, Casillas saved a header from David Barral right on the goal line to protect the lead.
"It was a quick block, the ball was heading to the corner of the net and it was more a reflex save," said Casillas.
Alberto Botia was shown a red card for a tackle of Cristiano Ronaldo in injury time.
Earlier Sunday, Valencia strolled to a 2-0 win over Getafe, Alvaro Negredo’s last-minute goal gave 10-man Sevilla a 2-1 win at Zaragoza and Hercules rallied to beat Real Sociedad 2-1.
Valencia’s first win in four weeks moved it to fourth place, ahead of Sevilla on goal difference with both sharing 20 points, while Getafe extended its losing streak to three games.
Alberto Tino Costa notched Valencia’s eighth-minute opener controlling a pass from Juanma Mata with his chest before firing into goal.
David Navarro added the second in the 62nd, striking home the rebound of his own header off a well-taken free kick by Costa.
Getafe never threatened to come back, and Valencia had multiple opportunities to turn the game into a rout in the second half.
With time expiring at La Romareda stadium, substitute Negredo recovered the ball near midfield and dribbled to the edge of the area before slotting past goalkeeper Antonio Doblas.
"The team was very ambitious and never gave the game up for lost," Sevilla manager Gregorio Manzano said. "Everything looked to be against us but we are very happy to take back the three points to Seville."
With the loss, Zaragoza fell to last place on seven points with its fans holding a banner that read: "For the lost dignity, Zaragoza deserves more."
Sevilla’s opener came when Luis Fabiano used his speed to get behind the defense and blast in Frederic Kanoute’s perfectly timed pass from the right side of the penalty area in the 29th.
Nicolas Bertolo, who had come on at halftime, equalized for Zaragoza in the 53rd through a header off a corner by Gabriel Fernandez.
Sevilla played the last 18 minutes a man down when defender Fernando Navarro was shown a red card for pulling down Braulio Nobrega.
At Jose Rico Perez stadium, Hercules fell behind in the 16th when Antoine Griezman finished off the rebound from a shot by Carlos Martinez.
David Trezeguet recorded his sixth goal of the season to level for Hercules in the 47th, and Drenthe scored his first goal for the club in the 52nd from a free kick that Bravo could do nothing to stop.
Also, Malaga beat Levante 1-0 while Racing Santander versus Espanyol and Mallorca versus Deportivo La Coruna ended in scoreless draws.
It was the second win for Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini and his team’s first in the league at La Roselada thanks to a 25-meter strike by Eliseu in the 64th, lifting the team out of the relegation zone.
On Saturday, Atletico Madrid climbed to 17 points through its 3-0 rout of Osasuna, which stayed on 12 points, and nine-man Athletic Bilbao held on to beat Almeria 1-0 to improve to 16 points.