Benzema to start at Anfield as Ancelotti backs Vinicius to shine for Madrid

By Sports Desk February 20, 2023

Karim Benzema will start the first leg of Real Madrid's Champions League tie with Liverpool, says Carlo Ancelotti, who is backing Vinicius Junior to shine against the Reds once again.

Madrid were without Benzema for Saturday's 2-0 win at Osasuna, with Ancelotti intent on managing the striker's minutes after he endured an injury-hit few months.  

Ancelotti said the 2022 Ballon d'Or winner would not have faced Liverpool had the first leg of the last-16 tie taken place on Saturday, raising fears he could miss out on Tuesday.

However, Benzema – who top-scored with 15 goals in 12 Champions League appearances last season – has been passed fit to feature from the off on Merseyside.

Asked about Benzema's availability at Monday's pre-match press conference, Ancelotti said: "I see Benzema looking well, tomorrow he will start."

Benzema is looking to end a five-game goal drought in the Champions League, having failed to net in 324 minutes in the competition since his decisive penalty in last May's semi-final second leg against Manchester City.

While Benzema will start, Madrid will be without midfielders Toni Kroos and Aurelien Tchouameni at Anfield, but Ancelotti is backing others – including Luka Modric – to step up.

"I'd like to have them," he said of the midfield duo. "It's a forced transition that we didn't want. It doesn't worry me because the feeling we have without them is good. 

"Those who have replaced Toni and Tchouameni have done well and we have confidence in the whole squad.

"Modric didn't have a good time in January but now he's back to his best level and he's going to keep growing. His condition is good and he still wants to play for Madrid."

Madrid's last meeting with Liverpool was a memorable one for followers of Los Blancos, as Vinicius' goal handed them victory in last season's Champions League final in Paris.

The Brazilian has enjoyed another outstanding campaign for Madrid, though it has been marred by several incidents where he has faced racist abuse from the stands at LaLiga games.

Asked if Vinicius was looking forward to a fixture outside of Spain, Ancelotti said: "He likes to play anywhere. Vini is handling it well and it doesn't affect his performance on the pitch.

"The issue of racism is very serious and complicated, there is no law that changes a person's head, that is done by culture and common sense.

"I don't blame Spain for this, things like this happen in all countries. The most important thing is respect for people.

"Also, this is a very important match. Right now it's a pleasure to watch Vini, not just for Madrid but for all of football. 

"Everyone likes to see his quality and his talent, like with Pedri, Gavi, [Kylian] Mbappe and [Erling] Haaland... It's a pleasure for football to be able to enjoy this quality."

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