Madrid (AFP) - Karim Benzema scored his sixth goal in five games to help Real Madrid beat high-flying Real Sociedad 3-1 on Saturday as Gareth Bale came on as a substitute to a screech of whistles at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Bale, only recently fit again after a calf injury, was named on the bench following his controversial outing with Wales last week, when he celebrated victory behind a flag that read: "Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order."
But Zinedine Zidane brought Bale on for Rodrygo in the 67th minute and the home fans, who had already jeered his name before kick-off, made their dissatisfaction clear.
Without Bale, Benzema had delivered again, equalising after a Sergio Ramos mistake allowed Willian Jose to give Real Sociedad the lead after just 110 seconds.
Fede Valverde and Luka Modric completed the victory in the second half.
After Barcelona's 2-1 win earlier in the afternoon over bottom-club Leganes, which required a late winner from Arturo Vidal, Madrid's victory keeps them level on points with the Catalans, with next month's Clasico at Camp Nou fast-approaching.
Atletico Madrid lost ground at the top. They were held to a 1-1 draw away at Granada and now sit three points behind the leading pair, having played one game more.
Only Barca's Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski have more goals than Benzema's 25 in the top five European leagues in 2019 and his latest strike means he has 12 for his club this season, twice as many as Cristiano Ronaldo for Juventus.
- Fans 'unimpressed' by Bale -
Bale was supposed to fill the void when Ronaldo departed but instead his relationship with the club, coach and now fans has only grown more distant.
Zidane defended the 30-year-old when questioned about his celebrations in Cardiff and urged Real Madrid's supporters to show mercy, by pointing to Bale's history and achievements.
It was noticeable that some fans were uncomfortable with the criticism, pointing to the badges on their scarves and shirts, and there was a scattering of defiant applause too when Bale enjoyed some bright moments late on.
But the volume of the whistles was loud enough to suggest the majority were unimpressed and had been waiting for the moment to make their point.
If revenge was served to Bale there was also the chance to view Real Sociedad's Martin Odegaard up close, the 20-year-old Norwegian on loan from Madrid, who has been arguably the best creative midfielder in the league so far.
Odegaard has been key to Real Sociedad's surprise start and for half an hour they outplayed their opponents, their assertive, free-flowing style in evidence from the off.
Defeat means La Real stay fifth, five points off the top.
They needed less than two minutes to score as Ramos played a backpass blind to Thibaut Courtois and Willian Jose read it, nipping in and applying a smart finish.
He could have had a second but hit Courtois from six yards while Odegaard blossomed, one swerving pass drawing sighs of approval before a fizzing shot went close.
But the visitors lost their way towards the end of the first half and Madrid struck, Benzema heading in Modric's pin-point cross before Valverde's deflected shot beat Alex Remiro two minutes after the interval.
For a while, Bale took centre stage, as his arrival and then every touch were whistled but he seemed to relish the challenge and almost capped a driving run with a goal, his finish dribbling across the line in injury-time.
By then, Modric had wrapped up the win as Benzema generously headed back for his team-mate to fire into the corner.