x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Benzema the man with the Midas touch at Real Madrid with mentor Mourinho

Everything Karim Benzema touches turns to goals at present, something Real Madrid hope will continue in the Champions League against his former club Lyon.

Karim Benzema credits his coach Jose Mourinho with instilling a stronger work ethic in him.
Karim Benzema credits his coach Jose Mourinho with instilling a stronger work ethic in him.

Karim Benzema is enjoying his best form since joining Real Madrid from Olympique Lyon in June 2009.

The French striker has not enjoyed a smooth ride in Spain and there has been continued speculation that he would be leaving the Bernabeu, conjecture which has melted away after a superb run of form which has seen him score 17 goals in all competitions since November - a strike rate which is increasing by the week.

Benzema, 23, scored both goals in Saturday's 2-0 win against Hercules, just as he had scored a brace in the victory at Racing Santander the week before.

"I've found myself again and I've returned to my usual best," he said. "I put in a lot of hard work on the training pitch and that's paying off now.

"I'm going through a good moment in my career and I want to get as much out of it as possible. Everything I touch turns to gold right now."

Benzema had scored just one league goal in Real's first 19 matches of the season up to the end of January. He has scored seven in the nine games since. Real needed the €35 million (Dh206.5m) striker to fill the scoring boots of Gonzalo Higuain, the Argentine forward, who was ruled out for five months in November.

Although he would have liked more minutes on the pitch, Benzema was deemed not up to the task by Jose Mourinho, his coach, who insisted that he needed to bring in a No 9. Emmanuel Adebayor duly arrived on loan in the January transfer window, a signing which galvanised Benzema. He is relishing the competition and the fans in Madrid are not complaining.

"I feel much better than before," Benzema said. 'Before' last season meant when he was unsettled in Madrid, living in a hotel and unable to speak Spanish.

'Before' this season meant when his coach and sporting director were arguing about his value to the team. All at Real are pleased that he has come good and think he has a future alongside Cristiano Ronaldo et al. Benzema is expected to start in tonight's vital Champions League game against his former side.

Real have famously faltered at this stage in each of the last six seasons and they have yet to beat Lyon, the seven-time French champions, in seven games, but Mourinho relishes such adversity, saying: "My team are not afraid of recent history. Statistics exist so that we can go out and contradict them.

"Sure [Lyon] have quality, but we must eliminate them. I've already done that [with Porto] on my way to winning the tournament."

Mourinho may deploy Benzema as a lone striker with Ronaldo, who has missed Real's last two matches with a thigh strain but did train with his teammates last night, doubtful for the match. "I need to consult the medical department for a final opinion and to hear how the player himself feels," Mourinho said at a news conference.

Benzema, who has scored in each of Real's last three Champions League games, including a hat-trick against Auxerre and an equaliser within a minute of coming off the bench in Lyon in the first leg. He chose not to celebrate that goal - his 100th in senior football - against his old side, but Benzema does well against French teams.

"I want to score against Lyon," he said. "And I am convinced we will defeat Lyon."

Central to his renaissance has been his understanding with Mourinho, who has dispensed a tough type of love, encouraging Benzema to train and work harder in matches and combining that with a psychological boost that he can be the best striker in football. The method has worked.

"I want to score and run more thanks to Mourinho," Benzema said. "It's been good for me that he's worked so hard on my mind."

Claude Puel, the Lyon coach, will be concerned that Real have won all 21 of their games at home this season. Their group stage form was much improved, too, and they finished eight points clear of AC Milan with a defensive record second only to Manchester United, yet the pressure on them to succeed can be used to their opponents' advantage.

When Lyon scored in the Bernabeu last season to make the game 1-1 and 2-1 on aggregate, the Real fans and players looked crushed. The difference now is that Mourinho has introduced a tougher resolve, belief and winning mentality.

"Our match against Lyon is so important that we are completely focused on it," Xavi Alonso, the midfielder, said. Real are encouraging a raucous atmosphere so that Lyon get stage fright. Given his recent form, there is little chance of Benzema freezing in the spotlight.



11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +2