Whilst the weekend saw doubles from both La Liga’s star men – Lionel Messi has 41 goals from the last 42 La Liga appearances, Cristiano Ronaldo has 38 in 38 – it also witnessed the emergence of their support strikers, Karim Benzema and David Villa.
Benzema has spent the last few weeks struggling to win back Jose Mourinho’s faith for a starting berth, but was involved in neat play for both Ronaldo’s goals at the Stadio Jose Rico Perez in a 3-1 win over Hercules. At the same time, Villa’s double confirmed the inevitable, that his recent struggles to find the net were temporary, the former Valencia man excelling on Saturday night on the wide-right striker slot.
Barcelona’s 5-0 demolition of Sevilla on Saturday was down to two things: Sevilla’s open, attacking 4-4-2 formation and Messi and Villa’s ability to exploit its flaws.
The striking duo look to be establishing a neat understanding, exchanging several quick passes to cut through the Rojiblancos’ back-line on numerous occasions. The two played very close to each other, and whilst Villa was initially lined up on the right side of attack and Messi in the centre, their starting positions were the opposite, Villa choosing to occupy the centre-backs early in moves before darting to the left-back’s area for space, Messi picking the ball up from deep, and often on the right wing, before running at the centre of Sevilla’s defence.
The movement worked like clockwork and was crucial to Sevilla’s undoing, highlighting an understanding between Barca’s two forwards that is developing. Indeed, for Villa’s first goal, Messi‘s run from deep at the centre-backs drew the markers in, with Villa’s run behind left-back Antonio Luna seeing Messi’s pass find him in enough space to cut inside to curl an effort beyond the reach of Javi Varas.
Meanwhile, Benzema’s contribution to Real’s win went some way to rejuvenating his career at the Madrid side. Before the game, Mourinho had said of his striker’s predicament: “I
Real Madrid had pinned Hercules back after the home side’s bright start, but were struggling to break through. Benzema’s introduction on 76 minutes for Pepe saw the Frenchman do more in 15 minutes for his and Real’s duel causes than he had the rest of the season combined. The striker has yet to start a league game for Mourinho, confined to cameo appearances, but whilst called upon as a plan B in previous games – the 0-0 draws at Mallorca and Levante – and failing to deliver, the 22-year-old put in the work rate against Hercules. He linked up neatly with Marcelo before the No 9’s shot ricocheted into Ronaldo’s path for the team’s second goal, before Benzema’s pull-back found the No 7 for the game-killing third.
The youngster played with his head up and used the ball more wisely, confirming his Coach’s observation that he is indeed ‘not dead’ and could be set for a more involved opportunity in midweek at Milan, with the Madrid derby the following Sunday in mind for Mourinho’s first-choice front-line. How the striker takes his next chance in the spotlight could determine the rest of his season.