2011 has so far been a year to forget for Higuain. Ruled out for the first three months as he recovered from surgery on a herniated disc in his back, the 23-year-old was a supporting cast member as Madrid won the Copa del Rey but lost out in the Primeira Division and Champions League. Then, the summer Argentina saw as strong favourites to succeed in the Copa America but for the host nation to suffer the ignominy of a quarter-final exit to eventual winners Uruguay.
Despite the 59 goals he had scored in the previous three seasons, Higuain returned to the Santiago Bernabeu following the summer as a clear second-choice to Benzema. The French striker had enjoyed a blistering start to the campaign with six goals in six pre-season friendlies. As Madrid ran Barcelona close in August’s SuperCopa double-header, Benzema posed the European champions’ defence a number of problems and repaid Mourinho’s trust in his ability to perform on the big occasion.
With the former Lyon striker playing with such verve, Higuain did not get his first start until September 24 when Real hosted Rayo Vallecano in La Liga. After netting his first goal of the season, the Argentine was then presented with an opportunity to stake a claim for a first-team spot as a groin injury saw Benzema ruled out for two weeks.
Consecutive hat-tricks against Espanyol and Betis sandwiching another whilst on international duty against Chile, showed that Higuain too was on electric form. A strong understanding with Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria was clear – the pair have provided a quartet of assists for the striker in the last two games.
Despite the contrasting fortunes of the two forwards in 2011, it now appears to be Higuain who has ensconced himself as first-choice at the Bernabeu. Commenting on the French striker’s spot as a substitute Saturday, Mourinho stated: “Benzema was on the bench in case we were struggling offensively. But after he suffered a muscle injury, it is better to spend three or four days to recover before he returns.
“This is a permanent issue for me with such good players. It is very difficult to say, ‘He is the first choice and he is not’. It is very difficult to play three, four or five games in a row with the same player while the other is on the bench. They are very good players.”
For much of his time in charge at Real Madrid, Mourinho has invariably had just the one striker on the top of his game. Now he has the privilege of two to call upon, both of whom have demonstrated their ability to trouble any defence los Blancos will face this season.