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Will Karim Benzema play in the Atlético vs Real Madrid derby?

Real Madrid captain Karim Benzema is expected to miss the derby against Atlético, giving Carlo Ancelotti a decision to make up front.

Benzema absence leaves Ancelotti with a selection dilemma
Gonzalo Arroyo MorenoGetty

Real Madrid have so far been largely unaffected by the absence of Karim Benzema, who has been diagnosed by the club with an injury to the semitendinosus tendon and a strain to the quadricep muscle in his right thigh that prevented him from participating in the games against Mallorca and RB Leipzig. Madrid won both of those fixtures fairly comfortably, but both were at home and neither involved a historical rivalry as significant as that Carlo Ancelotti’s side shares with Atlético Madrid. On Sunday, Madrid will cross the capital to take on Atlético at the Metropolitano with a perfect record this season to protect and without their club captain and talismanic forward, barring a late miracle.

Benzema back-up an ongoing issue

What Ancelotti decides to do is the big question facing the Italian. The rest of his squad is largely intact and the team generally picks itself but the role of back-up striker has not been clearly defined for several years at the Bernabéu, since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo for Juventus. An expensive mistake – Luka Jovic, bought for €60m and sent to Fiorentina this summer - and in-house candidates including Borja Mayoral and Raúl de Tomás have failed to nail down the position. Mariano Díaz appeared to be the solution when he was repurchased from Lyon after a decent season in Ligue 1 but the Dominican forward rarely gets more than a few minutes off the bench despite tending to find the net at key moments. This season he has been afforded five minutes; in 2021-22 he totalled 397′ and started three games.

In the absence of Benzema against Mallorca and RB Leipzig, Ancelotti elected to play Rodrygo in the league and Eden Hazard in Europe, both acting as a false nine to allow Vinicius and Fede Valverde to take advantage of the spaces created to get into shooting positions. The two combined for the 80th minute opener against the Bundesliga side and both were on the scoresheet against Mallorca.

It is likely Ancelotti will stick to the same formula in the Metropolitano, although Marco Asensio presents another option. The Spain winger has been largely overlooked by the Italian this season – 43 minutes across three cameos - but came off the bench to secure three points against Leipzig with a late goal and he has operated in the middle before, his natural ability to cut on from the right on to his favoured left foot providing a recurrent nightmare for opposition goalkeepers.

Rodrygo moves ahead of Hazard in pecking order

The most likely option is Rodrygo. The Brazilian is comfortable anywhere across the attacking line and his movement is difficult for defences to predict. Hazard is a shadow of the player Madrid paid Chelsea €100m for, a string of injuries and sub-par performances robbing the Belgium international of the confidence that once made him one of the most feared attacking midfielders in the world. That will not suit the 31-year-old, who will surely be on the plane to Qatar but quite probably not as a part of Roberto Martínez’s starting XI and who needs pitch time and a return to form as quickly as possible, having elected against a loan move during the summer.


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