Benzema: Barcelona v Madrid still 'the best' without Messi and Ronaldo

By Sports Desk October 16, 2021

Karim Benzema believes the Clasico is still "the best match that exists in football", even with neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo involved for Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Benzema's Madrid visit Barca next week to begin a new era in one of the game's most famous fixtures.

After Ronaldo left the capital for Juventus in 2018 – and later rejoined Manchester United – Messi followed his great rival out of LaLiga this year.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner, who had been a first-team player at Barca since 2004, joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer when the Blaugrana could not afford to renew his contract.

In the 21st century, only Diego Forlan (10) has scored more LaLiga goals against Barca than Ronaldo (nine). Messi's 18 Clasico goals are the most of any player against Madrid in that time.

Benzema, leading the league for both goals (nine) and assists (seven) in 2021-22, is the outstanding player among those who remain, but he insists the excitement around the match is undimmed.

"For me, it's still the same. It remains the best match that exists in football," he told ESPN.

"It doesn't matter about the players who are there, who have left or who will join. Real-Barca is historic.

"The names change, but before there was [Zinedine] Zidane, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, [Samuel] Eto'o. Real-Barca will always be Real-Barca."

 

Leaders Madrid will undoubtedly be favourites, even in Catalonia. Ahead of the games this week, when Los Blancos are not in action but Valencia visit Camp Nou, Barca are down in ninth.

Benzema is impressively holding the fort as Madrid's main man, but Barca are a little short on quality following Messi's departure amid a dire financial situation.

The Blaugrana's salary cap is only the seventh-highest in the league, a long way behind Madrid's, and doubts remain around Ronald Koeman.

He lost his first two Clasicos last season, becoming the first Barca coach to do so since Joaquim Rife in 1980. Koeman is also three without a win against champions Atletico Madrid, who beat his side before the international break.

But Benzema says: "There's never a good moment to play them. A team like Barca or any top team, they can have a poor game and then bounce back again.

"It's a match that we can't take lightly, even if they haven't played well so far."

Benzema certainly has played well, and he has made the shortlist for the 2021 Ballon d'Or.

In this calendar year, the France international has 28 goals and 11 assists for Madrid in all competitions. Across the top five leagues, only three players – Robert Lewandowski (46), Erling Haaland (45) and Kylian Mbappe (43) – have recorded more involvements than Benzema's 39.

"It's been a dream since I was young and also a motivation – the Ballon d'Or represents the best players in the world and [it is great] to be on the list," Benzema said.

"If you count who's on there, it's very satisfying. It's always been an objective.

"You could say [I am close]. What I've done for the last three to four years, to continue to perform at a high level.

"When I'm playing, I don't think about the Ballon d'Or. I think about helping the team win, providing a spectacle. The Ballon d'Or comes as a result of that, because it's more of an individual focus, but it's all about the collective."

Related items

  • Stafford not blaming injuries as Rams slump continues Stafford not blaming injuries as Rams slump continues

    Matthew Stafford insisted he was feeling "fine" physically as he faced questions over his fitness following the disappointing loss at the Green Bay Packers.

    The Los Angeles Rams fell to 7-4 after losing 36-28 in an entertaining road game against Green Bay on Sunday.

    Stafford threw for 302 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but also had his lowest completion percentage (55.3) of the season so far.

    After making an electric start to the season, Stafford has thrown five interceptions in a run of three straight loses for the Rams, going for a pick-six in each of those defeats.

    Stafford also had a lost fumble against the Packers and a report before the game suggested he was battling with back, elbow and ankle problems despite not appearing on the injury report.

    "I am feeling fine," said Stafford, per ESPN. 

    "Back was kind of barking at me a little bit that week [Week 9], but I haven't missed any time since then. 

    "The rest of my body, is it 100 per cent? No, nor is anybody else's in this league at this point of the season.

    "You have to take them all [my turnovers] individually. I know that is probably tough for you guys to hear, but that is the truth of the matter. That's the way I see it."

    Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been surprised by a losing streak that he says must end given the team's star quality.

    "It's not a good mood – I can say that," he said.

    "Of course I am [shocked]. We have guys that are way too good for us to be losing games like this and losing games on the road. 

    "We've just got to get it right. We have to play better, everything has to be better because we're too good to be losing games like this but we're not playing like we're that good right now, so we got to correct our stuff."

    Stafford still sits third in the NFL with 3,316 passing yards, second in the league with 27 TD passes and has a fourth-best passer rating of 105.2.

    He has had 27 passing plays which have gone for 25 or more yards, which is third-best in the league in a tie with Aaron Rodgers, who was the winning QB in Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.

    The impressive Rodgers had 307 passing yards and two touchdowns without an interception, as well as rushing for a score.

    It was Rodgers' 60th career game with at least 300 yards through the air and two TDs, becoming only the fourth QB to achieve that feat after fellow NFL greats Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

  • Fix the defence and accommodate Ronaldo – five problems for Rangnick to solve at Man Utd Fix the defence and accommodate Ronaldo – five problems for Rangnick to solve at Man Utd

    Manchester United have broken with modern tradition and made a footballing decision that everyone seems to think is a good one.

    The appointment of Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season was confirmed on Monday, a day after caretaker Michael Carrick managed a creditable 1-1 draw at Premier League leaders Chelsea.

    While he hasn't been a coach for the best part of three years, Rangnick's legacy in the Bundesliga and his influence on some of Germany's finest minds makes him a shrewd appointment for United, not least because he will take up a two-year consultancy role after 2021-22.

    This, then, is a decision taken by United with a view to long-term changes to their fortunes, not simply a quick fix to arrest poor results. Still, with more than half the season still to go, Rangnick could yet guide the Red Devils to some tangible on-pitch success over the coming months – provided that he gets to work quickly on some of their biggest problems.

    Stats Perform looks at five things Rangnick must address as soon as possible...

     

    Fix the defence

    United conceded 21 goals in the first 12 games of the season; they have never previously let in more at the same stage in the competition's history. In November alone, they have faced 60 shots, the most of any side in the division.

    That tells you something about the state of their defence.

    Of course, Rangnick's gegenpressing system is likely to demand off-the-ball contributions from every player on the pitch (more on that shortly) but the rearguard is in need of some serious fine-tuning. In particular, captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have seen their individual form fall off a cliff since they helped England to the final of Euro 2020; it was telling that a good defensive performance against Chelsea on Sunday came with both players sidelined.

    Getting the best out of Shaw and Maguire, arresting Aaron Wan-Bissaka's decline and getting Raphael Varane fit and integrated into the side will be essential to Rangnick's aims.

    Get Bruno firing again

    So often United's star performer under Solskjaer, Bruno Fernandes is another who has endured a comparatively poor season.

    He tallied his 50 direct goal involvement on his 58th appearance in October (30 goals, 20 assists), which is a tally only Andy Cole (43), Alan Shearer (54) and Eric Cantona (54) reached in fewer games, so it's not all bad. But the Portugal playmaker has scored just once in 19 appearances for club and country.

    He looks a player in need of a lift and, so central is he to United's attack play, he could be Rangnick's first port of call at Carrington. Well, apart from...

    Accommodate Ronaldo

    Like a black hole devouring a gas cloud, all the noise surrounding United's performances seems to be drawn inexorably back to Cristiano Ronaldo.

    It's a beguiling narrative: a five-time Ballon d'Or winner who has to start every game but who should not expect to start every game; a 36-year-old forward who no longer contributes enough to make up for any shortcomings, but one with six goals in five Champions League matches this season, two of them winners and one a last-gasp equaliser.

    There are some writing off Ronaldo's chances of winning over a coach like Rangnick who demands hard graft from every member of his team, while others say the onus is on the incoming manager to construct a unit that brings the best out of the leading male international goalscorer in history. Time will tell what the future holds.

    And just a note for the 'Ronaldo doesn't press' crowd: he made three more sprints and 21 more intensive runs against Chelsea than Jesse Lingard, who came on at the same time.

    Tie down Pogba and tidy the squad

    Some of Solskjaer's best work at United was putting together a strong squad, but that seemed to unravel in his final few months in charge.

    Lingard returned rejuvenated from West Ham but, rather than cash in when there was a demand, Solskjaer kept the England international yet gave him just 63 minutes of league action. It's now likely he'll leave for nothing next June.

    There were similarly strange decisions behind contract extensions for Eric Bailly and the seldom-seen Juan Mata, while Phil Jones is still at the club after two years of injury hell and Anthony Martial was retained despite falling way down the attacking pecking order. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson also appears unlikely now to dislodge David de Gea.

    Then there is Paul Pogba, still yet to sign a new deal or announce plans to leave for free next year, whose agent wastes few opportunities to discuss potentially interested parties. The word is that Pogba is excited to work with Rangnick, but the France star is just one of several members of the United squad who needs clarity on their positions.

    Give Donny a chance

    It felt almost pre-ordained when Donny van de Beek scored the final goal of the Solskjaer era against Watford, having come on as a substitute to rapturous (and ironic) cheers from the visiting fans.

    Van de Beek has spent most of his time at United being assured his chances would come, then left wondering when that would be. Having only started four league games in 14 months, the Netherlands international – who has lost his place in the national squad – would almost certainly have pushed to leave in January had Solskjaer stayed in the job.

    Now, Van de Beek has the opportunity to prove himself to a new manager. Rangnick's methods might not be Cruyffian exactly, but they are certainly more closely aligned to the Ajax way than Solskjaer's focus on individual inspiration.

  • India come close but are forced to settle for draw against New Zealand India come close but are forced to settle for draw against New Zealand

    A nail-biting first Test between India and New Zealand ended in a draw, despite the hosts coming within one wicket of victory in Kanpur on day five.

    Some expert spin bowling from Ravindra Jadeja (4-40) and Ravichandran Ashwin (3-35) helped India reduce their opponents to 165-9, but they were denied the win by some determined batting and poor light.

    A slow-moving pitch that showed little sign of day five deterioration made it difficult for either team to aggressively seek victory, and despite a brief flurry from Tom Latham and Kane Williamson, the Black Caps rarely looked like playing for anything other than a draw.

    Resuming on 4-1 and chasing a target of 284, New Zealand set about frustrating the hosts, not losing any wickets before lunch despite the presence of nightwatchman Will Somerville, who lasted 110 balls and managed 36 runs before succumbing to a brilliant catch from Shubman Gill off the bowling of Umesh Yadav.

    Latham (52) and Williamson (24) then occupied the crease for another 19 overs, though Latham was eventually back in the pavilion after being bowled by Ashwin.

    Ross Taylor (2), Henry Nicholls (1) and then Williamson all fell to lbw decisions to give India hope, but Tom Blundell (2) and Rachin Ravindra (18) took another nine overs out of the game before the former unluckily clipped the ball onto his stumps.

    Jadeja thought he had Ravindra lbw but the initial out decision was reversed on review with the impact outside off stump, but after taking the second new ball just a few overs later, the same bowler trapped Kyle Jameison (5) instead, this time successfully, and Tim Southee (4) soon followed to leave New Zealand 155-9.

    Urgency gripped India with the light fading over the Green Park Stadium, but they were unable to dislodge either Ravindra or Ajaz Patel, who defended the final nine overs before bad light stopped play.

    The second Test begins on Friday in Mumbai.

    Spin almost leads to win for India

    India began the morning session as favourites, but an inability to dislodge nightwatchman Will Somerville looked certain to cost them.

    A second session fightback was followed by steadily taking more wickets in the final session, and the bowling in particular of Ashwin and Jadeja took their team to the edge of a win that had seemed impossible at lunch, with all four of the latter's wickets coming via lbw. Fortune swung the way of New Zealand, though, who held on for the draw.

    Latham and Somerville save the day for Black Caps

    Latham shone with a first-innings 95, followed up by a vital 52 in the second, though more crucial was the 146 balls he ticked off as well as managing an improbable partnership of 76 with Somerville that took 32 overs out of the game.

    It was Ravindra and Patel who were the heroes at the end, holding off one last India attack in the final overs, but the work during the morning session from Latham and Somerville is what gave them the opportunity to do so.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.