Real Madrid averted a crisis in the best way possible on Saturday by beating Barcelona 3-1 in the first empty Clasico, landing an early blow in La Liga's title race.
Barca had the chance to inflict a third consecutive defeat on their rivals and increase the pressure on Zinedine Zidane.Instead, Madrid's win earns them a six-point lead over the Catalans, having played one game more.
Sergio Ramos' penalty and a late Luka Modric goal finished Barcelona off after Federico Valverde and Ansu Fati had traded early strikes in a compelling game that defied those expecting further evidence of two heavyweights in decline.
Atletico Madrid took advantage by beating Real Betis 2-0 to move up to second in the table but Sevilla missed out, slipping to a surprise 1-0 loss at home to Eibar.
Barcelona might feel hard done by, especially as Ramos' penalty was awarded after a check by VAR and a hugely exaggerated fall by Madrid's captain after Clement Lenglet tugged his shirt.
But aside from an impressive spell in the first half, when Lionel Messi threatened to win the game on his own, Madrid were dominant for longer spells and pulled away when it mattered. This was Koeman's first Clasico as Barcelona coach and some of the pressure Zidane would have felt from a loss is now transferred to the Dutchman, who has overseen only three wins from his first six games in charge.
Barcelona face Juventus on Wednesday in the Champions League, without the suspended Gerard Pique.Every Barca set-back now reflects on the future of Messi, for whom this could even have been the last Clasico at Camp Nou. The Argentinian, who failed in his attempt to leave last summer, has still to score from open play this season.
Benzema should have scored too and Madrid finished the stronger before half-time but Barca were better just after. Fati flashed wide and Philippe Coutinho missed a free header at the back post.
Barca wanted a penalty themselves when Ramos booted a clearance into the arm of Raphael Varane but this time there was no whistle and Madrid were hardly troubled thereafter.