'He's struggling a bit' – Benzema misses out again for Real Madrid

By Sports Desk November 06, 2022

Karim Benzema is "struggling" and has been ruled out of Real Madrid's trip to Rayo Vallecano on Monday, which could prove a worrying sign for France ahead of the World Cup.

The Ballon d'Or winner returned from a short lay-off to feature as a substitute in Madrid's 5-1 Champions League win against Celtic on Wednesday, but he is now back on the sidelines.

Benzema has been troubled by muscular fatigue in his left quadriceps and the 34-year-old remains not quite at ease, although Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti expects him to be available for their home game against Cadiz on Thursday.

Benzema joins defender Antonio Rudiger in missing Monday's game, as Madrid seek a win that would take them back above Barcelona at the top of LaLiga.

Looking ahead to the trip to Vallecano, Ancelotti said on Sunday: "Karim won't play because he's not feeling right.

"It looked as though he was okay, but he's struggling a bit and he won't be available tomorrow. Against Cadiz I don't think Rudiger will be back, but Karim should be."

Benzema has started just 11 games across all competitions this season, scoring six goals. He managed 44 goals in 46 games last term, enough to win the highly prized Ballon d'Or award, marking him out as the top performer in world football over the 2021-22 campaign.

"Karim's lack of game-time has meant we have got to see other players with real quality, like [Federico] Valverde, Rodrygo, Vinicius [Junior]," said Ancelotti.

"We've coped well with Karim being out thanks to the quality of the other lads. When we come back after the World Cup, we'll need Karim for the second part of the season."

The Italian then sang the praises of Rodrygo, the 21-year-old Brazilian who has seven goals this season, saying he considers the youngster "more as a centre-forward than a wide man".

Ancelotti was also asked about comparisons between Rodrygo and Brazil great Ronaldo, but says the 21-year-old benefits from the quality around him at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"Ronaldo wasn't as fortunate as Rodrygo," Ancelotti said. "Back then, Real Madrid weren't as strong as they are now in the Champions League. 

"Rodrygo can make the most of that. If he reaches Ronaldo's levels on an individual basis, we'll be building a statue to him."

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  • Can anyone loosen Europe's hold on the Club World Cup? Can anyone loosen Europe's hold on the Club World Cup?

    The Club World Cup begins on Wednesday as seven teams compete to become world champions.

    Representatives from each confederation will take part over 11 days in Morocco, with Real Madrid favourites to end up lifting the trophy.

    That is not to disrespect any of the other participants, but Europe's stranglehold on the competition simply cannot be denied.

    Although South American teams won the first three editions in its current format, the only occasion in the last 15 where the Champions League winners have not triumphed was in 2012 when Corinthians defeated Chelsea in the final, the last time Europe's best did not succeed.

    With four-time Club World Cup winners Madrid present, can anyone realistically stop Carlo Ancelotti's men? Stats Perform has taken a look at the other participants.

    CONMEBOL – Flamengo

    It would be fair to assume that, as the only other confederation to claim the prize, the South American representatives will always be seen as the biggest challengers to Europe.

    Flamengo have participated in the Club World Cup before, having reached the final in 2019 only to lose 1-0 to Liverpool after extra time.

    The Mengao have faced some recent upheaval with head coach Dorival Junior leaving despite winning the Copa do Brasil and Copa Libertadores, just the third time they had prevailed in South America's premier competition.

    Former Fenerbahce and Corinthians boss Vitor Pereira arrived in December and will be relying on star striker Gabriel Barbosa to fire his team to glory, as the ex-Inter man did when he scored the only goal of the Libertadores final against Athletico Paranaense in October.

    Despite promising young midfielder Joao Gomes leaving for Premier League side Wolves, Pereira will hope his new team can at least make their way to the February 11 final when they face either hosts Wydad Casablanca or Al Hilal in the final four.

    CONCACAF – Seattle Sounders

    The Sounders are carrying the hopes not only of Seattle but of MLS as a whole. Due to a series of CONCACAF Champions League heartbreaks for American and Canadian clubs prior to Seattle's triumph last May, the league has had a long, long wait for representation on the world stage.

    It is fitting then that the Sounders should be the team to do it, having broken so many barriers since arriving in MLS in 2009, selling out stadiums, enjoying instant success and signing big-name stars from European clubs.

    Although the 2022 season saw the Sounders' ever-present record in the MLS playoffs ended, that was no reflection of the quality of this squad; injuries badly hampered Brian Schmetzer's side after their early-season focus on that successful Champions League campaign.

    Joao Paulo is back fit again, Raul Ruidiaz provides a goal threat, Jordan Morris' pace causes problems for any defence, and captain Nicolas Lodeiro – a veteran of two World Cups – knits it all together.

    The Sounders – and those watching back home – will be desperate to get through the second round and have a crack at heavyweights Madrid.

    CAF – Wydad Casablanca

    Otherwise known as Wydad AC, the Moroccans would have sealed their place regardless of being hosts after lifting the CAF Champions League in May.

    Under the guidance of Walid Regragui before he left to lead the Morocco national team to the semi-finals of the World Cup, Zouhair El Moutaraji's two goals in the final against Al Ahly brought Wydad their third Champions League title.

    Their record in this competition is less impressive, with their only previous involvement coming in 2017 when they were beaten by Mexico's Pachuca in the second round, before going down 3-2 to Japan's Urawa Reds in the fifth-place playoff.

    Former Racing Santander and Birmingham City player Mehdi Nafti took over from Regragui after leaving LaLiga side Levante late last year, and Regragui thinks they can improve on their 2017 showing at least.

    "I think the trap game is Al Hilal [second round]. If they manage to pass Al Hilal, they can go to the final against Real Madrid. Everything is possible," the Morocco coach told FIFA.com.

    AFC – Al Hilal

    The four-time AFC Champions League winners will compete with Wydad in the second round, with the winner going on to face Flamengo in the final four.

    Ramon Diaz returned for a second spell in charge, and like several other head coaches at the Club World Cup, was not actually the one who lifted the trophy that got his team here in the first place.

    Former Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim was in charge when Al Hilal beat Korea's Pohang Steelers in November 2021, before leaving by mutual consent to be replaced by Diaz.

    Diaz is unsurprisingly the only former Oxford United manager at the Club World Cup, but the 63-year-old has plenty of talent to call upon in his quest for glory in Morocco.

    Odion Ighalo and Luciano Vietto will be accompanied by a number of players from Saudi Arabia's impressive World Cup campaign, with Al Hilal looking to improve on their last CWC campaign when they were beaten by Chelsea in the semi-finals and Al Ahly in the third-place playoff in 2022.

    CAF – Al Ahly

    Al Ahly are also back again, somewhat fortuitously as they inherit Wydad's assigned host spot following the Moroccans beating them in the CAF Champions League final.

    This will be the Egyptian side's eighth appearance at the Club World Cup, with their most impressive previous campaign seeing them finish third after beating Brazilian's Palmeiras on penalties in 2021.

    Head coach Marcel Koller also played no part in his team's qualification for this competition, with the former Austria boss only arriving in September.

    With a number of Egypt's national team players to call on, they will be hoping to repeat their previous meeting with Auckland City in the first round when they beat the New Zealanders 2-0 in 2006. 

    OFC – Auckland City

    This will be the 10th appearance for the Navy Blues, but they are back again after their 3-0 win against Tahiti's Venus in the 2022 OFC Champions League final.

    That was overseen by head coach Albert Riera, not to be confused with the former Liverpool and Galatasaray winger, who took charge in December 2021.

    Riera will be hoping to at least match his team's best ever performance at the CWC, when they came third in 2014 after winning on penalties against Mexico's Cruz Azul. 

    It would take a momentous effort for anyone to stop Madrid, who somehow overcame Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool on their way to Europe's Champions League title last season.

    Never say never, though.

  • Rumour Has It: Arsenal make late push for midfield reinforcements including Jorginho, Tielemans Rumour Has It: Arsenal make late push for midfield reinforcements including Jorginho, Tielemans

    Arsenal are still desperate to add a new face in central midfield and will reportedly make late runs at Chelsea's Jorginho and Leicester City's Youri Tielemans before the transfer deadline.

    Tielemans is one of Leicester's top talents, appearing in all 20 of their Premier League games this season while contributing three goals and an assist from his 18 starts.

    Jorginho is in his fifth season at Stamford Bridge and remains an integral part of Chelsea's squad, making 15 league starts this season, including wearing the captain's armband in their two most recent fixtures.

    However, both players are in the final six months of their contracts and are set to become available via free transfers at the end of the campaign, and their clubs may be willing to accept a significantly reduced figure for highly valuable assets.

     

    TOP STORY – GUNNERS GUNNING FOR MIDFIELD ACTION AT THE DEADLINE

    According to Football London, Arsenal's pursuit of 21-year-old Brighton and Hove Albion standout Moises Caicedo appears to have been unsuccessful, and they now view Jorginho as an acceptable alternative.

    The report states Chelsea are willing to let the Italy international leave, indicating he will become expendable if the impending arrival of Benfica's Enzo Fernandez comes to fruition.

    Football London also adds Arsenal will make another push at both Caicedo and Real Sociedad's Martin Zubimendi, but they are considered unlikely options.

    Meanwhile, 90min claims Leicester would be more open to allowing Tielemans to leave if they were not locked in a relegation battle, but as it stands they would need a "huge" bid to prioritise a transfer fee over their Premier League survival.

     

    ROUND-UP

    – Calciomercato is reporting Leeds United will try to secure Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo after he snubbed Bournemouth, but Roma are unlikely to accept unless the full transfer fee is paid up front.

    – According to L'Equipe, Paris Saint-Germain are interested in a loan move for Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech, who would prefer a loan to France instead of a fellow Premier League side.

    – Manchester United captain Harry Maguire has rejected a loan approach from Inter and will instead opt to fight for his place, although he will re-evaluate his future at the end of the season, per the Daily Star.

    – El Nacional is reporting Liverpool will make a run at signing Chelsea's N'Golo Kante when his contract expires after the season.

    – According to Football Insider, Southampton have agreed to meet the £26.2million (€30m) release clause for 22-year-old Braga forward Vitinha.

  • Messi wishes Maradona had witnessed Argentina's long-awaited World Cup triumph Messi wishes Maradona had witnessed Argentina's long-awaited World Cup triumph

    Lionel Messi wishes Diego Maradona had been able to hand him the World Cup trophy last month, but he has no regrets over the time it took him to lead Argentina to football's greatest prize.

    Messi inspired Argentina to their fourth World Cup in Qatar last year, winning the Golden Ball award after scoring seven goals at the tournament – including two in the final against France.

    The Albiceleste's triumph was their first in the competition since Maradona – who died in 2020 – produced his own series of talismanic displays to lead them to glory at Mexico 1986.

    During an interview in Paris with Andy Kusnetzoff, Messi said he regretted the fact Maradona – who coached him at the 2010 World Cup – was not alive to witness his crowning moment.

    "I would have liked Diego to give me the cup, or at least to see all this, to see Argentina as world champions, with everything he wanted and how he loved the national team," Messi said.

    "I think from above, he – like a lot of people who love me – were strong."

    While Messi had to wait until his fifth and likely final World Cup to lift the trophy, the legendary attacker says his triumph could not have come at a better time. 

    "I think if I had to choose the moment, it would have been this one," Messi said. "It's at the end of my career, closing a cycle.

    "I achieved everything with the national team as I always dreamed. I got everything in my career, individually. It was about closing my career in a unique way.

    "I never imagined that all this was going to happen to me when I started, and getting to this moment was the best. I have no complaints and I can't ask for more.

    "We won the Copa America [in 2021] and the World Cup, there's nothing left."

    As well as producing several outstanding performances, Messi made headlines for taking on a more vocal role as Argentina's leader in Qatar. 

    The Paris Saint-Germain star memorably celebrated a quarter-final goal against the Netherlands in front of Louis van Gaal before describing him as "disrespectful" in a post-match interview, while he also called striker Wout Weghorst a "fool" after the same game.

    Messi admits he is not proud of some of his behaviour at the tournament, adding: "I knew what Van Gaal had said but it [the celebration] happened on the spur of the moment.

    "I didn't like what I did, I didn't like what happened after. These are moments of nervousness and everything happens very quickly."

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