Karim Benzema’s health vital for Real Madrid-PSG Champions League clash, Carlo Ancelotti’s future

Karim Benzema has been playing at Paris Saint-Germain for almost 16 years now. At first it was easy.

The suede-headed kid and Ronaldo Nazario worshiper with eight siblings from a tough suburb of Lyon set his ruthless, hungry eyes for the first time on the red and blue of the capital club, which doesn’t is only 16 years older than him, in 2006 at the age of 19. On the eve of the 2006-07 season, in the Trophée des Champions, Benzema scored the equalizer in a match that ended 1-1 after 120 minutes and OL won on penalties.

Since that day, Benzema, for Lyon and now Real Madrid, has lost just once in eight clashes with the Parisians, although he has scored just one more goal since that summer of 2006, beating them in the league, the Coupe de France final and, ultimately, the Champions League – a competition he has won four times but that PSG has not yet conquered. For Benzema, it is “as important as winning the World Cup but more difficult to win”, for PSG, it has become their raison d’être, the Holy Grail which eludes them, taunts them and, in this moment, whose failure to win defines them.

At present, on the eve of another chance for the great French footballer of Algerian origin to thumb his nose at the new rich in the national capital, things are not so easy. PSG stopped feeling like his personal touches.

Trailing 2-0, both thanks to Real Madrid’s No.9, the man with 76 Champions League goals, PSG got their revenge in November 2019, the last time these clubs met, with a pair of late goals that assured Thomas Tuchel’s team, not Madrid. , won Group A.

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Earlier in this season, which PSG finished as beaten runners-up, came Benzema and Madrid’s last competitive trip to the Parc des Princes. They were massacred. If you watched this game and Madrid owns your heart, you will always have nightmares.

PSG shredded Zinedine Zidane’s side again and again, faster, more competitive, fitter, more aggressive and the eventual 3-0 margin of victory could have been doubled. A night of mist, humidity, discomfort and pain.

Now Benzema, and the Whites, are back; back for revenge, back to try and get ahead in the competition they hold dearest. But he’s not in good shape. Whether this man – who needs 21 more goals to become the club’s second most successful and grandest goalscorer in football history – will be part of the starting line-up is a matter of both of speculation and nerves.

What appeared to be a manageable hamstring problem, which arose in the costly 2-2 draw with Elche, first took a little longer to heal than expected and then, partly due to the coach’s desire Carlo Ancelotti to recover it, suffered a setback. On February 5, Madrid’s Italian boss announced that his talismanic French striker would not play against Granada, but commented: “He’s been training for a few days, he’s not fit yet, we’ll have to wait. another two or three days… but he will be back for the next game.”

The next match was at Villarreal, that is, Saturday’s 0-0 draw in which not only did Benzema not make the squad, the Whites dropped two points to reduce their La Liga lead over Sevilla.

In the days between the Granada and Villarreal tests, Ancelotti allowed Benzema to undertake sprint training on one of the specially designed uphill slopes at their Valdebebas training ground, and Benzema’s hamstrings protested. . It explains his inability to take on the Yellow Submarine, and it explains the nerves not only about whether he will start in Paris, but also the level of performance he can produce – either as part of the XI or as a than substitute.

His importance to Madrid’s chances of knocking out the French champions is almost indescribably huge. On an individual level, he has contributed 24 goals and 9 assists in 28 appearances this season. These are Herculean figures, notably reached at the age of 34.

Even better, his partnership with Vinicius Junior is terrifically attractive and dangerous. Between them, they created or scored 58 of the Whites goals this season. Stripped of Benzema, Vinicius is still powerful, still potentially a tie-breaker, but he can sometimes seem a bit indecisive, short of a kindred spirit.

Without this divisive but divine striker, Madrid struggled to overtake Granada (1-0), lost points without scoring at Villarreal and were knocked out of the Copa del Rey (without scoring) by Athletic Club. Frankly, if Benzema doesn’t have a big role in the two games against PSG, then the chances of Madrid continuing in the competition they consider their personal stronghold are dreadfully small.

“He’s a great footballer, one of the best in the world,” said PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino. “He is above all a very important player for his team. If he doesn’t succeed it will be a defeat for Madrid. I’m not going to say that it will be a huge plus for us because they have other great players, but it would change things for Madrid.”

Not only is the Argentine tactician absolutely right, despite having a veritable forest of his own problems to deal with, but he is also part of the equation Ancelotti has to solve. You see, there’s a lot more to it than just moving on to the next lap rolling over that tie.

In the spring of 2018, Pochettino renewed his contract at Tottenham Hotspur for another five years. For some (ill-judged) reason, he ignored the option to insist on a buyout clause. As happy as he is in north London, being celebrated, surrounded by interesting players, about to move into a new state-of-the-art stadium and a year away from reaching the Champions League final in Madrid, he was a mistake.

That summer, he met two Madrid board members, in fact the only two who really matter, at a wedding reception in the Spanish capital. Zinedine Zidane had just shocked Florentino Perez by quitting just days after Madrid’s stunning 3-1 win over Liverpool in the Champions League final.

Pochettino was directly questioned by the Madrid outfits if it was really true that he didn’t insert an ‘exit’ clause in his new contract with Spurs. Truehe asserted. Well that’s a shameit has been said. Otherwise you would be the manager of Madrid now.

The Argentine, at this stage, was by far the No.1 candidate for the club who were still reeling from losing their winning, charismatic and iconic manager in such circumstances. Not only were Madrid unsure of what to do next, but their decision to sign Julen Lopetegui was strongly condemned – which controversially cost the Basque his job with Spain just before La RojaThe World Cup campaign in Russia has begun – and it was an experience Florentino Perez was prepared to tolerate for exactly four months.

OK, settled case as to what Madrid thought then of the guy who is in the opposing dugout this week. Since then, the 49-year-old has not only brought Spurs to the brink of Champions League glory, he has finally won his first two trophies as a manager, ridding him of that ‘not a winner’ stigma. “.

Now, none of that would be of any concern to Ancelotti if things weren’t a little more precarious for him at the moment at the most political and drastic club in the world than it seems. The last time the Italian, ‘surprised’ to be called upon to take over last summer, was ‘boss’ at Madrid, he quickly realized he was not the boss of bosses.

Four trophies in his first season, 2013-14, including an ultra-iconic Champions League final win over Atletico Madrid in Lisbon, but sacked after the second season due to a perceived ‘lack of modernity’ and of a collapse when victory in La Liga had seemed assured. He was angry at the time, scarred, shaken, blatantly at odds with Perez’s logic and, that means, fully aware of his current position.

Elimination at San Mames earlier this month, kissing goodbye at The Copa wasn’t great, but it wasn’t enough to cost him his job either. Playing ‘catch us if you can’ with Sevilla, who have not won the title since the end of World War II, is not much encouraged by the hardliner, ‘win or you’re sacked’ Perez, but it will be forgiven if Madrid finally respond to their trophyless 2020-21 season by becoming Spanish champions in 2021-22.

If Benzema’s injury and the obvious weariness of Madrid’s vital midfield trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos meant Pochettino’s PSG had them brushed aside and dumped. the Whites outside Europe in early March, the consequences would be serious. Any stumble, let alone a complete collapse, against Sevilla’s domestic pursuit under these circumstances would sadly spell the end of Ancelotti – with his rival this week the obvious candidate to replace him.

There are some assumptions there and, frankly, if Madrid can get the most out of their manpower for 180 minutes of this tie, then they certainly have the advantage as a team. PSG’s front three, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar – the latter, out since November with an ankle injury, could return on Tuesday – have yet to really fire. However, if they do, then it’s a behemoth of a knockout tie; one for the ages, one that may well dictate how long Ancelotti’s second reign at the Bernabeu will last, and one that will most likely be dictated by the cunning with which the Italian uses his wonderful, deeply loyal, hugely ambitious but currently not in good shape.

Over to you, Carl. That’s why you make a lot of money. Good luck making the right decision.

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