Zinedine Zidane 'annoyed by criticism' of Karim Benzema, insisting Real Madrid striker 'for me he is the best, by far'
French striker has only one goal to his name in the league this season ahead of visit of Eibar
Zinedine Zidane launched an impassioned defence of Karim Benzema before Real Madrid's home clash with Eibar, branding the French striker's critics "a disgrace".
The long-serving Real forward, 29, has scored only one Primera Liga goal this season, drawing conjecture from the press about his value to the reigning Spanish champions.
But manager Zidane, who is urging Real to respond well to Tuesday's Uefa Champions League draw with Tottenham Hotspur, threw a supportive arm around his countryman.
He told his club's official website: "I'm annoyed by criticism of Karim because, for someone who understands football, it is a disgrace. For me he is the best, by far.
"It seems that a No 9 here is expected to score 50 or 60 goals but Karim is going to score 25 to 30 and will create another 30 or 40, which for me is the most important thing.
"We cannot stop people from speaking badly of him, everyone can say what they want. But from my point of view I don't think a striker has to only score goals.
"I will defend him because I think he's the best. He's been here for so many years - that's no accident.
"He's got everything and there's every chance he'll improve further."
- A nudge to Winks: Tottenham's promising star must keep feet to ground
- Barcelona will offer Lionel Messi a 'lifetime contract', insists CEO Oscar Grau
- Rio Ferdinand interview: 'Man United will have chances but City are favourites for the title'
Real, boosted by Cristiano Ronaldo's return from suspension, have won their past three league games but lie five points adrift of Barcelona with surprise package Valencia splitting the pair in second.
"When you analyse our results so far, we have not been bad," Zidane said. "We can improve and that's what we're trying to do.
"We are five points behind the leaders but we're topping our Champions League group and have already won two trophies this season [the Spanish and Uefa Super Cups].
"I don't know if people have forgotten that, but we have not.
"In December we will challenge for another trophy [the Fifa Club World Cup] and we're still challenging in the league, in the Copa del Rey and in Europe.
"We're on the right road, there's no need to worry."
Sixteenth-placed Eibar will travel to the Bernabeu without Yoel, Fran Rico, Pedro Leon, Ivan Alejo and Ivan Ramis due to injury but manager Jose Luis Mendilibar is remaining calm nonetheless.
On Real, who could only manage a 1-1 draw in this fixture last term, Mendilibar told his club's website: "They're currently going through a patch in which they're struggling to win games, particularly at home, but they're capable of scoring at any time and are a very difficult side to stop.
"It's important that we're not intimidated when we have possession and offer the player on the ball options, so that they too are made to chase after us a bit."
Just like Zidane, Eibar's Basque manager holds Benzema in high esteem.
"I'm certain that Benzema would be right up there for most of his teammates," Mendilibar said.
"They play well when he's in the side. He doesn't just focus on getting goals, he also plays with a lot of nous. As well as scoring goals, he helps out a lot in both the team's attacking and defensive play."
Updated: October 21, 2017 08:15 PM