Real Madrid prepare to face Murcia in the Copa del Rey this evening with Jose Mourinho promising Karim Benzema a starting spot in the side.
The Coach reserved special praise after the weekend’s derby win for the 22-year-old Frenchman, citing his contribution to a team effort a great improvement on what he had seen earlier in the season: “Benzema
It follows the €35m signing’s impressive cameos of late where a 15-minute appearance off the bench at Hercules saw an involvement in Real’s two goals that proved the difference in a 3-1 win, which was followed with another assist at San Siro for the last-gasp equaliser against Milan.
Since arriving this summer, it has fast become apparent that whilst Mourinho has confidence in his first team selection, some of the reserve players have failed to impress the Portuguese tactician. The fact Benzema was seen to be in that group but has managed to win over some faith is testament to both Mourinho’s handling of the enigmatic No 9, and the player’s reaction to his Coach’s criticism.
The initial issue with Benzema and a few of the other young attacking stars at the club (Pedro Leon today told by Mourinho to ‘keep his head where it is now rather than where it was a few months ago’), was the lack of workrate given to the club’s cause on the pitch in the opening weeks of the season. Mourinho’s aim is to press opponents from as high up the pitch as possible, starting with the lone striker and three support attackers. The 0-0 draws at Mallorca and Levante either side of a 1-0 win over Osasuna and even the win in France at Auxerre were games the team struggled to break through in, spending large periods of play chasing the ball rather than using it effectively.
Benzema responded to Mourinho’s post-Atletico Madrid comments by promising to score goals in the second leg Copa del Rey tie at home to Murcia. It is a far cry from two weeks ago where previous to a side containing Benzema drawing 0-0 in the first leg at the Nueva Candomina, they were warned by Mourinho to perform or lose his confidence. Real had not lost to Murcia since 1926, so anything but a win was a disapointment, regardless of Murcia’s strong start to their Spanish third division campaign.
Real Madrid’s hierarchy decided with Mourinho to give Benzema a final chance despite Mourinho’s earlier comments, interestingly to Lassana Diarra’s detriment. The former Chelsea and Arsenal midfielder was cited as the main culprit in influencing his compatriot’s professional and personal behaviour at the club. Diarra has since been kept apart from his compatriot in training in the past month, Benzema instead working with the main group of Mouinho’s players, and whilst comments attributed to Diarra said both he and Benzema would be seeking to leave the club come January, Benzema chose to contradict those claims.
Ironically, Mourinho had asked the club to hold off on off-loading Lass having been initially impressed with his workrate in pre-season. However, an uneasy relationship has since developed, highlighted by Lass’ lack of involvement in the first team and being the only eligible player not to travel with the squad for the last Champions League match in Milan.
Whilst one Frenchman goes into tonight’s game enjoying a fresh start at the club, another’s days at the club look increasingly numbered.