Karim Benzema reacted angrily to being substituted in Mestalla during Real Madrid’s 4-1 victory over Valencia, defying Zinedine Zidane’s authority despite his coach repeatedly backing his misfiring striker during a disappointing season for the Real number nine.
Zidane has been a staunch defender of Benzema this season with the striker facing a barrage of criticism for a poor run of form. However, Benzema appeared to bite the hand that has kept him in an undeserved starting role when he walked off the pitch in Mestalla. Not only did the Frenchman not accept Zidane’s hand, when he reached the bench he threw his jacket to the floor, questioning his coach’s decision at precisely the moment that Zidane needs the backing of his players after surrendering the Liga title and being knocked out of the Copa del Rey.
Benzema scoring return down on last season
Last season Zidane retained Benzema as his first-choice striker despite his numbers being considerably inferior to Álvaro Morata, who made the decision at the end of 2016-17 to seek his fortune elsewhere. Benzema scored 19 goals in all competitions at a rate of one every 170 minutes to Morata’s 20, with the Spain striker finding the net every 93 minutes of playing time. Zidane had told Morata at the beginning of the campaign that he would be afforded a similar rate of chances to Benzema but it never materialised in reality.
This season Benzema has managed only six goals at a rate of one every 267 minutes, a worse return than last season, while Morata has scored 12 for Chelsea and despite a recent drought at a rate of a goal every 171 minutes.
Zidane defended Benzema against Lineker's "overrated" barb
Even in spite of his scoring figures, Benzema apparently forgot the backing he has received from Zidane this season, particularly after former Barça striker Gary Lineker described the Frenchman as “overrated.”
"The criticism of Karim is a disgrace for people inside football [in reference to Lineker's comments]. For me he's the best around. Karim's not going to score 60 goals, but he'll score 30 and be involved in 60".
Furthermore, Zidane has shown his faith in Benzema by refusing to enter the transfer market in January. “I don't agree with the criticism he's received. It's no big deal. What I am concerned about isn't just him scoring all of the time. Karim's role isn't only about getting goals. He's a different player […] I like what he does for the team. Football is a team sport and he is one of the best players in that aspect of the game. And that is what I like in him. I'll continue to defend him to the death”
It remains to be seen if Zidane retains the same opinion after Benzema public display of disaffection on Saturday.