Benzema form a cause for concern at Madrid

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Karim Benzema misses a headed chance against Getafe.GettyImagesKarim Benzema misses a headed chance against Getafe.

A pretty comfortable 4-1 victory over near neighbours Getafe on Sunday night ensured that Carlo Ancelotti's start to life as Real Madrid manager continued in just the right manner. Five wins and a draw from his opening six competitive matches, albeit without playing exquisite stuff, is good reading, while the signing of Gareth Bale and contract renewal of Cristiano Ronaldo have made it a pretty positive couple of months for the Italian.

Not everything has been hunky-dory, though, and for anyone who watched Sunday's match at the Bernabeu, the cog that isn't quite turning as it should be is pretty obvious -- Karim Benzema.

The Frenchman was whistled throughout the match by the unforgiving Bernabeu crowd, who were only encouraged by three glaring misses that should have added plenty of gloss to an already convincing scoreline. Stray passes and a sometimes frustrating demeanour on the pitch only added to some fans' gripe with their lead striker, whose night to forget came to a close with just more than 10 minutes left when youngster Alvaro Morata replaced him to contrasting and welcoming cheers.

- Three things: Real Madrid 4-1 Getafe
- Madrid win without injured Bale

The night was a low point of a so-far disappointing season for the former Lyon man. Despite a goal in Madrid's 2-1 victory over Betis on the first weekend of the season, Benzema was the scapegoat for the Madrid support on that night, too. More misses and enough offside calls to frustrate even the most die-hard Madridista.

A brace of goals in Madrid's thumping 6-1 win at Galatasaray in the Champions League in midweek, taking his tally to four in all competitions, looked to have settled the striker, but then again he's always performed well in Europe. A return to the bread and butter of La Liga, against favourable opposition on home soil, was the true test. It was a test he failed against Getafe and his confidence looks frighteningly low. Plenty of Madrid fans tried to counter the jeers with applause on Sunday night, while Alvaro Arbeloa personally tried to lift his teammate after one miss, but these are tough times for Benzema.

It's not just in Spain the striker is struggling, he's under pressure for his country, too, with a failure to score in France's last match seeing him surpass 20 hours without an international goal. A run of 15 games without a goal prompted France Football Association president Noel Le Graet to berate the striker, saying: "He is very disappointing. A starter at Real Madrid can't be as bad as people say. We expect more." A good boost for the player's morale right there, then.

While the striker's international goal drought stretches back to the summer of 2012, where he scored twice in a friendly against Estonia, you have to wonder whether Madrid's decision to leave Benzema as the sole experienced out-and-out striker in the squad has been a wise one. While the strength in depth throughout the squad is exceptional, a failure to buy a replacement for Gonzalo Higuain, who left for Napoli in the summer, looks to be having a detrimental impact on the Frenchman so far.

The decision may have been taken to give Benzema the knowledge and the comfort that he'll be the main starter week in, week out, instead of being rotated as he was with Higuain. He may well have wanted that. Morata looks a real gem for the near future, but on the outside it looked as though he would be no threat for the Frenchman's starting role just yet. Now it seems the lack of competition in attack has only acted to make things worse rather than better. It's the first real problem Ancelotti looks set to have to deal with.

Madrid may have an embarrassment of riches elsewhere in the squad, especially in midfield, but some questions were raised over the summer over whether it was the right call to sell Higuain and not find a like-for-like replacement to offer competition to Benzema, and offer a top-class replacement if he gets injured. Luis Suarez was linked but nothing came of it, not with Madrid splashing the cash on Gareth Bale.

Questions had previously been raised during Jose Mourinho's reign over whether it was wise for a club like Madrid, competing in so many competitions, to just have the two top-class strikers. Mourinho got Emmanuel Adebayor on loan. With just the one, albeit with the rise to prominence of Morata, Madrid's striking options look even more limited.

The goals haven't dried up. Cristiano Ronaldo will always score, while Isco has made a superb start to life in Madrid with four goals, but Madrid need their experienced goal scorer scoring goals, and soon.

Another blot on Madrid's copybook against Getafe was Bale pulling out of making his home debut in the warm-up as a precaution. The Welshman, who started at Villarreal last weekend but was keen to make his Bernabeu bow, felt his thigh before the match and was withdrawn before kickoff, with the not-too-shabby backup of Isco plugging the gap. Disappointing for Bale and Madrid, but the way he powered back up the tunnel on leaving the pitch suggests it won't be too long before he wows the crowds in the Spanish capital. The congested spell of fixtures (Madrid travelled to Galatasaray last week and take on Elche this midweek) will have played a part, so expect to see the former Spurs man back for next weekend's derby clash with Atletico. Not a bad one to start off on, huh?

Madrid achieved their pretty comprehensive win over Getafe in a way Madrid have almost trademarked in recent seasons: an expectation of a comfortable win before, the conceding of a shock early goal and eventually a high-scoring win. If anything, it again highlighted the squad's strength in depth, with Ancelotti deciding to rest Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric. Isco was going to be rested, too, before Bale's withdrawal, while Marcelo and Raphael Varane were among those recovering from injury. Asier Illarramendi did manage to make his home debut and did well alongside Sami Khedira in the middle.

Special mention to Angel di Maria, though. The Argentine decided to stay and fight for his place despite the arrival of Bale, and he sure is fighting. A superb performance which saw him pretty much pulling the strings in the attack throughout. He played a part in the goals, and he came close to getting on the score sheet himself, but his work in tracking back was superb, too. Di Maria was due to start the match alongside Bale, not instead, so his decision to stay at the Bernabeu looks like a good one for the player and the club. An example (see Benzema) of why competition for places is a very good thing.


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