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Real Madrid 'character to suffer' hailed by boss Rafa Benitez

Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez hailed his team's "character" and ability to "suffer" after Wednesday evening's hard-fought 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao.

Madrid had not won on either of their visits to Athletic's new San Mames stadium, but Karim Benzema's double strike was enough to take the three points, with Benzema's second goal coming very quickly after Sabin Merino had equalised for Los Leones midway through the second half.

The result, coupled with Barcelona's shock 1-4 defeat at Celta Vigo, means Madrid move top of a crowded La Liga table -- ahead of Celta and Villarreal on goal difference, and a point clear of Barca and Atletico Madrid.

The Los Blancos coach told his postmatch news conference that he was very happy with how his players had stood up and won the game in difficult circumstances.

"I am very happy with the win," Benitez said. "The team has shown two faces. Possession in the first half and the character to suffer in the second. The team will take confidence in itself from having won at San Mames. We had 20 shots at goal. We are leaving here reinforced. This was a different game. We did things we had not done before. Until now we had not had to show character."

With galacticos Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez injured, Benitez gave a first start to Croatian summer signing Mateo Kovacic in midfield, and kept tweaking his tactics as the game unfolded.

The former Valencia, Liverpool, Chelsea and Napoli coach said that training ground work on different systems had paid off at different times over the 90 minutes.

"We have had four systems -- 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-2-1 and 4-1-4-1," Benitez said. "At the start we had to manage the game and later we worked on Athletic's midfield. Then we adjust with two holding midfielders, and we ended up with Casemiro. The players have taken on the concepts. And the advantage is that we won, and we made chances for Benzema and Cristiano. Almost everything we have done has been positive."

Benzema was also the match-winner at home to Granada last weekend and has now scored five goals in his last four La Liga games, meaning he is currently La Liga's top scorer this season alongside teammate Cristiano Ronaldo and Celta's Nolito. Benitez hailed the France international's quality, while saying there was a lot more to his game than just goals.

"[Benzema] is a great player," he said. "He is a different type of No. 9, not a penalty-box poacher. He has quality and makes a good partner for Cristiano. When they are together they are very dangerous. [Benzema's] movement creates lots of problems for the opposition defenders. I have told Karim I want him to score between 20 and 25 goals, and add assists to that, but he is on the right path."