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Benzema: Real Madrid's nailed-on starter

The French striker is the only man in Real Madrid's squad who has started every one of the ten games played under Julen Lopetegui.

Jesús Álvarez Orihuela

If there is one player in the Real Madrid squad who is untouchable, who is not rotated out of the side and who is immune to competition for places, that man is Karim Benzema. The 30-year-old is the only member of Julen Lopetegui's first-team group who has been in the line-up in every match since the former Spain coach took over at the Bernabéu. Ten starts in ten games.

Benzema enjoys a privileged status that he had begun to justify in the season's opening matches, scoring five in his first four appearances. However, he has not even come close to maintaining that level of performance. In Moscow, where he wore the captain's armband in the absence of Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, he drew a blank for the sixth game in succession, having failed to register a shot on target in the first five of those matches.

And all the while, fellow centre-forward Mariano Díaz is busy staking his claim...

Lopetegui seemingly unmoved by calls for Mariano

"Karim has been ever-present and is a player we have complete faith in," said Lopetegui in his defence after Tuesday's 1-0 Champions League defeat to CSKA. "Goals come in bursts. Right now, like the rest of the team, he's not finding the net. If he works hard and stays calm, the goals will come; but it's not just Benzema's responsibility."

Despite fans' calls for Mariano to be given more game time at Benzema's expense, Lopetegui appears unmoved. After his fine goal against Roma last month, 77% of voters in an poll urged the Real boss - in vain - to start the Hispano-Dominican ahead of the Frenchman against Espanyol three days later. Mariano did play in the 1-0 win at the Bernabéu, but only as a second-half substitute for Benzema.

Real Madrid goalless in three games for first time in over a decade

In LaLiga, Benzema's haul of four strikes leaves him behind André Silva (seven), Cristhian Stuani (six), Lionel Messi and Iago Aspas (five), and his scoring struggles have reared their ugly head once more at a point where, as a team, Real are scratching around for goals, having now gone three games without finding the net for the first time since 2007.

"Madrid do not have the cutting edge of previous years," said Alavés' Tomás Pina ahead of Los Blancos' weekend trip to face the Basques in Vitoria, in an interview in which the midfielder highlighted the European champions' current danger men: "Bale, [Luka] Modric, Mariano..." No mention of Benzema, Real's nailed-on starter.

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