The appointment of then Spain manager Juen Lopetegui as the eventual successor of legendary manager Zinedine Zidane whose sudden, unexpected exit sent shockwaves down the spine of Madrid supporters all around the world invited contrasting viewpoints from different sections. With the likes of Andre Villa-Boas, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Mauricio Pochetinho hailed as potential favourites, the appointment of a Spanish manager was greeted with suspicion especially considering the fact that none of the last 5 native managers appointed for the managerial role had managed to exceed 7 months.
Lopetegui was sacked just a day before the commencement of the world cup by the Spanish footballing federation who were bemused at the utter disrespect on show by the Galacticos who announced the appointment of Lopetegui on the eve of the world cup. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has not been known to see eye-to-eye with the federation on numerous occasions which certainly played a key role in the harsh decision by the board.
The move makes perfect sense from a footballing viewpoint with Lopetegui well acquainted with the overall working of the club having coached Castilla and served as a club footballer as well. However, there were fears that even an experienced manager like Lopetegui would struggle to oversee the revolution at Real Madrid especially considering the major issues plaguing the club.
There was a major question mark on the future of marksman Cristiano Ronaldo at the club with the winger eventually opting to seal a big-money transfer to Serie-A club Juventus. Once-record signing Gareth Bale had openly indicated his desire to force a transfer through in case of lack of appropriate game time following his heroics in the Champions League final against Liverpool with the Wales winger thoroughly exposing Loris Karius.
However, the question on every fan’s lips was the future of striker Karim Benzema at Real Madrid? While some deemed the French striker as incapable of nothing short of a “burden”, with his lack of efficiency in front of goal highlighted as a major concern, other hailed him for his defensive work-rate and loyalty to the club through thick and thin.
The common consensus, however, rested on the fact that Karim Benzema was certainly not performing at his best in recent times despite enjoying the complete support of ex-coach Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman was quick to defend the striker whenever questions arose over his lack of efficiency in front of goal, highlighting the importance of his overall contribution to the team gameplay as the key factor behind his constant inclusion. However, there was certainly reason to fear for the striker considering the arrival of a new manager in Lopetegui known for his ruthless streak as evident from the decision to drop Alvaro Morata from the Spanish juggernaut following a dismal season at Chelsea.
Lopetegui’s tactics have certainly thrown these fears to the wind with the ex-Lyon striker on top of the goalscoring sheets alongside Lionel Messi having scored 4 goals in just 3 appearances, with man of the match performances in the last 2 clashes against Girona and Leganes. The absence of Cristiano Ronaldo has provided Benzema with an opportunity to lead from the front with Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio providing quality support down the flanks. The confidence is certainly back in the striker’s gameplay with manager Lopetegui continuing to back the striker to the hilt.
“The merit is his. He is a great player, I haven’t changed anybody,” said Lopetegui following Benzema’s stellar performance against Leganes in a 4-1 win yesterday. The ex-Spain manager even went to the extent of hailing the French striker a potential Pichichi award candidate during a recent interaction with the media.
“Why not? Why shouldn’t he finish with 30 or 40 goals? The most important thing is the team and goals are the work of the whole team. Benzema is a great player and always has been. What he’s doing is credit to him. He’s happy and is helping the team, and it’ll stay like this.”
At the same time, there was a word of caution from the manager who reinforced the fact that no player was deemed untouchable and would be certainly dropped in case of bad performances.
“The word ‘untouchable’ doesn’t exist in the starting XI, we have great players, and something one goes in and another, we have great alternatives, sometimes the one that comes in is essential,” Lopetegui added.
Karim Benzema has enjoyed a brilliant start under the new manager and seems all set to lead the goalscoring charts, emerging as a fan-favourite in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo. At the same time, it is important for him to not drop his guard and encourage any complacency on the training ground.
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