Mbappe can wait after Benzema puts Madrid on course for Champions League semi-finals

By Sports Desk April 06, 2022

Real Madrid's plans for the transfer window before the start of next season are far from a secret. Their sole aim will be to ensure they do what many expect, and lure Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer after his contract expires.

If anybody was in any doubt of their ambitions, Karim Benzema reaffirmed them this week.

"Kylian Mbappe could be the third star with Vinicius and me? Yes, I say this a lot of times," Benzema told L'Equipe of his France team-mate.

"With Mbappe we get on well because we know what the other is going to do on the pitch. It's perfect."

But on Wednesday's evidence, Los Blancos may not even need to add Mbappe to their ranks to regain the Champions League.

Indeed, the argument for Madrid as a team ready to reclaim what they see as their rightful place atop European football is an increasingly compelling one after Carlo Ancelotti's men took a commanding 3-1 lead in their quarter-final tie with holders Chelsea.

It was the ruthlessness of Benzema that put the Blues to the sword at Stamford Bridge, Madrid clinically taking advantage of the passivity of opponents whose exertions in going seven games unbeaten in normal time in all competitions amid a club crisis appear to be rapidly catching up with them.

Madrid followed Brentford, 4-1 winners at the same ground last Saturday, in slicing through a Blues defence who had conceded just two goals in their last five games prior to being stung by the Bees.

Chelsea could take some solace in suffering at the hands or, in this case, the head of Benzema in the first half. His pair of deft headers to put Madrid 2-0 up inside 24 minutes were of the highest quality, coming from Vinicius Junior and Luka Modric crosses that were themselves worthy of great admiration.

And, with Kai Havertz halving the deficit, making this fixture the first Champions League knockout game to see three headers scored in the first half since Bayern Munich versus Porto in the 2014-15 quarter-final, Thomas Tuchel's men could afford reason for hope.

Chelsea's confidence may have been boosted further when Benzema skewed a gilt-edged chance for a hat-trick wide late in the opening period but, soon after the restart, he had his treble, courtesy of a huge inadvertent assist.

Edouard Mendy came way out of his goal to collect an innocuous punt forward and sent his attempted pass to Antonio Rudiger short. A grateful Benzema intervened and rolled a simple finish into an empty net.

It marked a second successive Champions League hat-trick from Benzema, following on from his remarkable second-half barrage against Paris Saint-Germain that knocked out Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi at the last-16 stage.

He became the fourth player to score a hat-trick in back-to-back Champions Leagues appearances after Cristiano Ronaldo (2017), Messi (2016) and Luiz Adriano (2014).

This latest prolific display, which took Benzema to 37 goals and 50 goal involvements for the season, was in part a product of his enduring brilliance and partly a mess of Chelsea's own making.

But it means he is now on a run of scoring at least two goals in each of his last four goals for Madrid. The only other player to score a brace in four consecutive appearances in the 'big five' European leagues this season? Yes, Kylian Mbappe.

There is no striker at this level in a richer vein of form than Benzema and, should he continue his incredible run, the mission for Mbappe if he does make the anticipated move to Madrid may not be to re-establish their European superiority, but to maintain it.

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    Vinicius Junior says he faces "a long road" to compete for the Ballon d'Or, as he tipped team-mate Karim Benzema to be named the world's best player this year.

    Vinicius scored the only goal of the game as Real Madrid beat Liverpool to win their 14th Champions League title in May, having also played a key role in Los Blancos' dominant La Liga triumph.

    The Brazilian scored 22 goals and recorded 16 assists in all competitions during the 2021-22 season, the latter figure representing a team-high total and one bettered only by Thomas Muller (22), Kylian Mbappe (21) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (18) among players in Europe's top five leagues.

    Brazil's 2002 World Cup winner Rivaldo recently tipped Vinicius to challenge for the title of the world's best as early as next year, but the winger believes the examples set by fellow Madrid stars Benzema and Luka Modric show he has a long way to go.  

    "It's [the Ballon d'Or] something that has to come naturally," Vinicius told YouTube channel Que Papinho. 

    "Karim is 35 years old and now he will win it, Modric won it at 33 [in 2018].

    "I have many years to evolve, a very long road for me if God wants me to win it one day."

    Benzema's total of 59 goal contributions (44 goals, 15 assists) was only bettered by Mbappe (39 goals, 21 assists) in Europe's top five leagues last term, and Vinicius says his fellow Blancos attacker is the perfect role model. 

    "I'm only 21 years old. I want to follow players like Karim, Modric, Marcelo, who won five Champions League titles," he added.

    "I want to get as close to them as possible. That's when someone can call me that [a role model].

    "Benzema repays the affection I have for him. He was a player I followed for a long time. I'm a big fan and being able to play with him today is incredible.

    "He recently in an interview put me in his top five in the world, so I'm really happy."

  • Laporta reiterates Barcelona's De Jong stance, labels Ronaldo situation 'interesting' Laporta reiterates Barcelona's De Jong stance, labels Ronaldo situation 'interesting'

    Barcelona have no intention of selling Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United, according to club president Joan Laporta, although he admitted the club's perilous financial situation could create the "need" for a sale.

    Meanwhile, Laporta labelled Cristiano Ronaldo's apparent desire to leave United "interesting" but would not be drawn on whether the Blaugrana would target the Portuguese legend.

    De Jong, who starred in Erik ten Hag's Ajax side before moving to Barcelona in 2019, has been touted as United's top transfer target since the Dutchman was announced as the club's new boss in April.

    While the midfielder expressed his desire to stay at Barcelona in May, the club's need to reduce their wage bill has led to suggestions a sale could still be possible.

    Laporta said last week he would do "what is in my power" to keep De Jong but acknowledged the Netherlands international would need to agree to a salary adjustment to remain at Camp Nou.

    The Blaugrana president repeated that stance at Wednesday's unveiling of new signing Franck Kessie, saying of De Jong: "He's a Barca player and if we don't have the need, we won't sell him. We don't want to sell him. 

    "We know he has offers, but right now we're not selling this player."

    While Ten Hag appears to see De Jong as the ideal candidate to be the fulcrum of his new United side, it remains to be seen whether Ronaldo will remain at Old Trafford after widespread reports of his desire to leave for a Champions League club emerged last week. 

    Ronaldo scored 24 goals in all competitions for United last season, but the club ended the season in sixth place with their lowest-ever Premier League points tally (58).

    But Laporta refused to be drawn on whether Barcelona could make a remarkable move for the 37-year-old, who starred in four Champions League triumphs with their historic rivals Real Madrid.

    "I had dinner on Monday with [Ronaldo's agent] Jorge Mendes and we talked about the market in general," he added.

    "Cristiano? I'm not going to talk about the players who came out of the meeting, but it's always interesting to know how some names are on the market.

    "I'm not going to talk about players in one way or another, it could be misunderstood. It doesn't contribute anything to the interests of Barca. We have to respect the players who have contracts with other teams."

    Meanwhile, Barcelona's need to adjust their finances in order to strengthen Xavi's squad has led to uncertainty over the future of winger Ousmane Dembele, whose contract with the club expired last month.

    Dembele made more assists (13) in all competitions than any other Barca player last season, and while Laporta is keen to keep the 2018 World Cup winner, says the 25-year-old is yet to respond to the club's offer.

    "We are in a situation of uncertainty. Right now, we still can't sign [him]," he said.

    "We are talking to players we are interested in so they can wait for us. Ousmane is not a Barca player, but we have made him an offer.

    "He has not accepted our proposal, but he wants to continue talking. We will continue talking, at least for now. 

    "Salary balance is necessary for the team to be competitive. All discussions are framed in this context. We're not in a hurry, although we're aware that we can't delay. Let no one expect us not to act with the utmost prudence".

  • 'He told me it was a good place!' - Kessie reveals Ibrahimovic advice after Barcelona move 'He told me it was a good place!' - Kessie reveals Ibrahimovic advice after Barcelona move

    Franck Kessie sought the advice of Zlatan Ibrahimovic ahead of completing his move to Barcelona.

    The Ivory Coast international has joined the LaLiga giants on a free transfer from Milan, having helped the Serie A side to the Scudetto last season.

    Legendary Rossoneri striker Ibrahimovic has previously represented Barca among his plethora of clubs, helping the Blaugrana win the title in the 2009-10 season.

    Kessie sought out the thoughts of the veteran Sweden striker when contemplating his own switch.

    "He told me it was a good place," Kessi said. "He recommended that I work hard."

    There will be a wait for both Kessie and fellow new arrival Andreas Christensen to feature, however, with Barca president Joan Laporta once again confirming the club are unable to register either player.

    The Catalan club's financial struggles have been well-documented, and there will need to be a reduction in the wage bill within their squad to accommodate their new players.

    Laporta is confident they will be able to do so without suffering serious losses to the makeup of their team, adding: "We have absolute respect for our players.

    "With whom the coach does not have, we are working on a consensual agreement. The sports management is working very well.

    "It is not easy, because the footballers we want have contracts similar to their current ones. Most have the hope and illusion of convincing the coach. Logic will prevail."

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