Karim Benzema believes the Clasico is still "the best match that exists in football", even with neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo involved for Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Benzema's Madrid visit Barca next week to begin a new era in one of the game's most famous fixtures.

After Ronaldo left the capital for Juventus in 2018 – and later rejoined Manchester United – Messi followed his great rival out of LaLiga this year.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner, who had been a first-team player at Barca since 2004, joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer when the Blaugrana could not afford to renew his contract.

In the 21st century, only Diego Forlan (10) has scored more LaLiga goals against Barca than Ronaldo (nine). Messi's 18 Clasico goals are the most of any player against Madrid in that time.

Benzema, leading the league for both goals (nine) and assists (seven) in 2021-22, is the outstanding player among those who remain, but he insists the excitement around the match is undimmed.

"For me, it's still the same. It remains the best match that exists in football," he told ESPN.

"It doesn't matter about the players who are there, who have left or who will join. Real-Barca is historic.

"The names change, but before there was [Zinedine] Zidane, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, [Samuel] Eto'o. Real-Barca will always be Real-Barca."

Leaders Madrid will undoubtedly be favourites, even in Catalonia. Ahead of the games this week, when Los Blancos are not in action but Valencia visit Camp Nou, Barca are down in ninth.

Benzema is impressively holding the fort as Madrid's main man, but Barca are a little short on quality following Messi's departure amid a dire financial situation.

The Blaugrana's salary cap is only the seventh-highest in the league, a long way behind Madrid's, and doubts remain around Ronald Koeman.

He lost his first two Clasicos last season, becoming the first Barca coach to do so since Joaquim Rife in 1980. Koeman is also three without a win against champions Atletico Madrid, who beat his side before the international break.

But Benzema says: "There's never a good moment to play them. A team like Barca or any top team, they can have a poor game and then bounce back again.

"It's a match that we can't take lightly, even if they haven't played well so far."

Benzema certainly has played well, and he has made the shortlist for the 2021 Ballon d'Or.

In this calendar year, the France international has 28 goals and 11 assists for Madrid in all competitions. Across the top five leagues, only three players – Robert Lewandowski (46), Erling Haaland (45) and Kylian Mbappe (43) – have recorded more involvements than Benzema's 39.

"It's been a dream since I was young and also a motivation – the Ballon d'Or represents the best players in the world and [it is great] to be on the list," Benzema said.

"If you count who's on there, it's very satisfying. It's always been an objective.

"You could say [I am close]. What I've done for the last three to four years, to continue to perform at a high level.

"When I'm playing, I don't think about the Ballon d'Or. I think about helping the team win, providing a spectacle. The Ballon d'Or comes as a result of that, because it's more of an individual focus, but it's all about the collective."

The October international break has provided an opportunity to reflect on the club season so far, with the campaign starting to settle into some sort of pattern.

Paris Saint-Germain have quickly moved clear at the top of Ligue 1, but there look to be genuine title tussles on the cards in the Premier League, Bundesliga, LaLiga and Serie A.

However, while there are familiar names involved in each league, that does not mean the same individuals are excelling as in previous seasons.

A close-season that saw two of the sport's greats make moves shook things up a little, giving other emerging stars the opportunity to establish themselves at the forefront of the European game.

Studying the best shooters, creators, dribblers and goalkeepers, Stats Perform takes you through the standout statistical performers of 2021-22 so far.

Hotshot Haaland and luckless Lorenzo

There were familiar faces at the top of the shooting charts last season, as Lionel Messi (196 shots) led the way ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (168). This term, although Ronaldo has hit the ground running, neither rank among the top marksmen.

Kylian Mbappe (35) has had the most attempts, but Erling Haaland is averaging 5.2 per 90. While that is the most among players with 20 total shots or more, it falls short of the 5.8 Messi was mustering last term.

Haaland is certainly making the most of his opportunities, though. From chances worth just 4.77 expected goals (xG), he has produced finishes worth 7.05 expected goals on target (xGOT) – a metric measured after the shot. These efforts have led to seven goals, performing in line with the quality of his finishing.

The Borussia Dortmund man is not outperforming his xG by as much as Karim Benzema, who leads the way in that regard. His nine goals have come from opportunities worth 4.43 xG, although his shots have only accounted for 5.22 xGOT, suggesting poor goalkeeping has also contributed to his success.

Lorenzo Insigne certainly has not encountered any below-par work from opposition keepers. His 27 attempts have been worth 5.5 xG, and he has narrowly surpassed that mark with his xGOT of 5.57. Yet the Napoli captain, third behind Messi and Ronaldo last year with 144 shots, somehow has only two goals.

Just two players in the whole of 2020-21 – Houssem Aouar (seven goals, 10.75 xGOT) and Edin Dzeko (seven goals, 10.58 xGOT) – fell so far short of their xGOT, suggesting Insigne's fortunes must surely change soon.

Benzema benefiting like Kane last year

Bruno Fernandes is one of Europe's best creators and scarcely gets a rest at Manchester United, so it is no surprise to see him figuring high up the rankings for key passes both this season and last. In 2020-21, Fernandes created the second-most chances (95) and the second-most chances from open play (77). This term, he is joint-fifth for total chances created (23).

Eden Hazard is back producing once again, averaging 3.99 key passes per 90 – all from open play. He is third for chances created and first for chances created from open play among those to forge 10 or more opportunities.

But Hazard has only a single assist to his name, not so far as fortunate as Fernandes' team-mate Paul Pogba or his own colleague Benzema.

Pogba has created chances worth just 1.45 expected assists (xA) and Benzema 2.05 xA, yet the pair have seven assists apiece thanks to the fine work of their club-mates. It means Benzema has been involved in 16 goals despite his combined xG and xA making up a mere 6.48. He is a man in top form, but this statistical output does not seem sustainable.

It is Harry Kane's example that Pogba and Benzema are following. His 14 assists led the Premier League last term, but he only actually created chances worth 3.63 xA, far and away the most spectacular disparity as Son Heung-min and Co. boosted Kane's figures.

Messi actually went in the opposite direction, last season creating chances worth 13.37 xA but only being rewarded with nine assists.

Adama dominant with Messi missing

As well as being one of Europe's most prominent shooters and creators, Messi was right at the top for dribbles last term. No player attempted (261) or completed (159) more take-ons. Given Neymar attempted the most dribbles per 90 (11.28) among those with 50 or more attempts, slow starts for two Paris Saint-Germain stars have left a gap in the market.

Unsurprisingly, Adama Traore has stepped into that void. The Wolves winger was next behind Messi for attempts (232) and completions (153) in 2020-21 and now comfortably leads the way (61 and 49). Among those with 20 attempted take-ons or more, Traore is now completing more dribbles per 90 (9.63) than any other player in Europe is even attempting. His success rate is an astonishing 80.33 per cent.

The Spain international has 14 times this season beaten multiple players in the same run and has created six chances immediately after a successful dribble – two more Europe-wide highs.

Traore only ranks joint-second for chances created from all carries, however, his nine trailing Allan Saint-Maximin's 11, with the pair out in front of the rest across various metrics with the ball at their feet.

Oblak off the mark and Keylor kept out

There were two clear outstanding goalkeepers in Europe in 2020-21, as Jan Oblak led the way for goals prevented using expected goals on target data (8.58, having conceded only 25 times excluding own goals) while Keylor Navas had the best save percentage of those to face 50 or more shots on target (80.43). Oblak was second for save percentage (80), with Navas third for goals prevented (8.11).

But both men have slipped below those standards this season.

Oblak has endured a significant wobble, saving only 57.14 per cent of 14 shots and conceding five goals from efforts worth 4.22 xGOT. Navas has a better save percentage of 72.73 but still is not having a positive impact, conceding six from an xGOT of 5.02. He also now looks to have lost his place to Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Going the other way, though, there has been a positive change in fortunes for Aaron Ramsdale, who last year had to make 147 saves – behind only fellow relegated England international Sam Johnstone (166). Since joining Arsenal, Ramsdale has faced just 10 shots on target and saved nine of them, a benchmark save percentage.

Matias Dituro is the standout difference-maker this term, however. Despite conceding 11 times, excluding own goals, since joining Celta Vigo, he has actually prevented 4.05 goals.

Karim Benzema remains hopeful of one day linking up with France team-mate Kylian Mbappe at Real Madrid.

Madrid are reported to have had three bids for Mbappe rejected by Paris Saint-Germain during the most recent transfer window, the biggest of which was said to be worth €200million.

The 22-year-old, whose current contract expires at the end of the season, revealed last week he asked to leave the Parc des Princes when Madrid's interest became apparent.

PSG publicly remain confident of convincing him to stay, though Madrid president Florentino Perez has hinted the Spanish giants may look to strike a deal with Mbappe in January when the prolific striker is free to open talks with foreign clubs.

Benzema has previously stated he has no doubt Mbappe will one day join Madrid and reiterated his desire to play alongside his compatriot at club level.

"Do I want to play with Kylian at Madrid? I've said it before, and if you want, I'll say it again. Of course, one day," he told RTVE.

"He is a great player, but you have to respect PSG."

Unlike Benzema, Mbappe has made an underwhelming start to the 2021-22 campaign with just four goals in his first 11 appearances for PSG.

That includes a run of 17 shots without scoring in Ligue 1 since netting against Clermont Foot on September 11.

However, Mbappe's 136 goals in 182 games since joining PSG in August 2017 is a tally bettered by only Cristiano Ronaldo (149), now team-mate Lionel Messi (163) and Robert Lewandowski (191) across that period among players from Europe's top five leagues in all competitions.

The former Monaco man's 61 assists over the same timeframe is the sixth-highest total, meanwhile, with Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller leading the way on 75.

 

Mbappe was last week named on the 30-man shortlist for the 2021 Ballon d'Or, an award that Benzema is among the favourites for in what has been a prolific year in front of goal.

Benzema has a combined 17 goals and assists for Madrid this campaign – 10 goals of his own and a further seven assists – which is three more than next best, Erling Haaland and Lewandowski.

And the Frenchman has been backed by Brazil great and former Madrid striker Ronaldo to see off the likes of Haaland, Lewandowski, Jorginho, Ronaldo and Messi to win the most prestigious individual accolade in football.

"Without a doubt, my candidate for the Ballon d'Or is Benzema," Ronaldo posted on his personal Instagram page on Thursday. 

"He is the best striker, who has played at a brutal level for 10 years and is a champion above all. Don't you think?"

France head coach Didier Deschamps hailed "crucial" Karim Benzema after the star forward guided Les Bleus to Nations League glory.

Benzema scored a stunning equaliser as world champions France came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 in Sunday's final in Milan.

After Mikel Oyarzabal broke the deadlock, Benzema struck moments later in sublime fashion to restore parity before Kylian Mbappe settled the contest 10 minutes from the end.

Benzema ended the Nations League Finals as the joint leading scorer alongside Mbappe and Spain's Ferran Torres to cap a particularly pleasing campaign for the Real Madrid talisman, who had spent more than five years in international exile before returning ahead of Euro 2020.

"Karim is a crucial player, and he has proven over the course of these two matches that he has very obvious talent," Deschamps told reporters.

"It's there for all to see, he is really kicked on from what he has been showing at club level with Real Madrid, he's got that desperate will to win. He's here exactly to do that, and he's communicated a great deal with his teammates, I am very happy for everyone, but especially for him.

"He needed that, he's not going to play another four or five international competitions, at least I don't think so. It's not the most important trophy, but he did everything, and he was very significant for us when it came to coming here and winning the Nations League. 

"It's important of course to have come from behind and equalised. I am personally very happy for Karim, that's why he is here. He scores a bucket-load of goals with his club and he does likewise for France, and besides the goals that he scores... he has that wonderful will to win, and you can see that come out.

"I am delighted as for the future of course, it is very important, besides the talent that he or other players might possess, there also this mental strength he's got this competitive edge which is absolutely crucial at the highest level."

Deschamps' France are now unbeaten in 25 competitive matches, only doing better once in their history between 1994 and 1999, thanks to exploits of Benzema and Mbappe at San Siro.

Mbappe finished the Nations League Finals with four goal involvements – more than any other player.

Deschamps, whose France were shocked by Switzerland in the last 16 at Euro 2020, added: "There are no regrets in football, that is part of the past, some people might agree or disagree, but there was a 10-minute window when we had a bit of a black-out [against Switzerland].

"And the scenario went against us here, we went behind by two goals [in the semi-final against Belgium], that can happen, but it was all about what we had done well before. But it was of course a bit of a sudden stop, and we did of course have ambitions to go further. But it's not a case that you have to throw everything out of the window, throw the baby out with the bathwater, quite the opposite.

"Even if it is not the same personnel. We have some young players who have very few caps, like Theo Hernandez, or Aurelien Tchouameni this evening. We threw them in there. And the team's level didn't suffer, there will be a lot of effervescence in this side, there will be competition for places and for those that are in form as you know the best possible remedy is to win trophies and there was something up for grabs tonight and I am very happy for the entire squad that was here during the two games that we won here." 

Karim Benzema hailed France's comeback ability as a sign of a "great team" after Les Bleus fought back to defeat Spain 2-1 and claim the 2021 Nations League.

The Real Madrid forward equalised after Mikel Oyarzabal opened the scoring, the seventh time in 2021 France have fallen behind first – three more times than any other calendar year.

Kylian Mbappe then scored the winner after 80 minutes, his fourth goal involvement at the Finals – more than any other player – to secure Les Bleus' second trophy in three attempts after winning the 2018 World Cup and faltering at Euro 2020.

Didier Deschamps' side are now unbeaten in 25 competitive matches, only doing better once in their history between 1994 and 1999, and Benzema pinpointed the team's comeback ability as a hallmark of how good they are.

"It's a dream evening on a collective and personal level," Benzema told M6 post-match.

"I really wanted to win a trophy with the France team, today it's done. It was a difficult match against a very good team. We have shown the strength of character.

"This team is very strong, it never gives up and we have proven it again today. It is the sign of great teams: [they] do not panic and wait for the right moment.

"We will first take advantage of this trophy and go for the World Cup."

Paul Pogba, who dominated the final with team-high figures in both touches (77) and passes (42), echoed Benzema's sentiments while bemoaning France's tendency to start slowly in games.

"It's true that we started badly," Pogba said to M6 after the game. "[It was] another first period where we were dominated by Spain [and] we had to react after a goal.

"We have to do better, we know that. But the result is victory at the end. If that's how we have to win, why not like that?

"It's always good to go for trophies. We always [have a] thirst for trophies, we are never satisfied."

Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe inspired France to come from behind once again and defeat Spain 2-1 in Sunday's 2021 Nations League final.

The reigning world champions, who overturned a two-goal deficit against Belgium in Thursday's semi-final, fell behind to Mikel Oyarzabal's second-half strike moments after Theo Hernandez had hit the woodwork.

However, Luis Enrique's side – who ended Italy's record 37-game unbeaten run in Wednesday's semi-final – were pegged back two minutes later as Benzema curled in magnificently.

Mbappe then doubled the blow as he netted after 80 minutes for France to secure their second trophy in three attempts following their win at the 2018 World Cup and disappointment at Euro 2020.

Marcos Alonso's wayward speculative long-range free-kick represented the only notable first-half chance as Spain struggled throughout the first 45 minutes to make their initial 66.7 per cent possession pay.

Raphael Varane was then forced off before the interval with what seemed to be an innocuous injury and matters worsened for Didier Deschamps' side after the break.

Mbappe's smart offload almost set up an opening goal but Hernandez struck the crossbar before Oyarzabal, who was released by Sergio Busquets, drilled into the bottom-right corner after 64 minutes.

However, Benzema and Mbappe combined to immediately level, with the former drifting inwards to bend a right-footed effort into the top-right corner before the latter put France into the lead.

The PSG forward appeared offside as he rounded Unai Simon following Hernandez's throughball but a VAR check stuck with the original decision as Mbappe recorded his fourth goal involvement of the Finals – more than any other player.

Oyarzabal then provided a late scare as he connected sweetly with a left-footed volley but was denied by Hugo Lloris before the France goalkeeper parried away from Yeremi Pino's first-time attempt to secure victory in the second edition of the competition.

Karim Benzema has declared his determination to win the Ballon d'Or after taking centre stage at Real Madrid since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure.

The France striker has been Madrid's attacking spearhead and has taken over the captaincy following the exit of Sergio Ramos, reflecting his standing with the Spanish giants.

With three LaLiga titles and four Champions League wins in 12 years, Benzema has accrued plenty of silverware while with Los Blancos.

Now, individual acclaim is regularly coming his way, with Benzema stepping out of Ronaldo's long shadow and becoming the talisman.

He has topped the 20-goal mark in LaLiga in the last three seasons and has nine strikes in eight games so far this term in the Spanish top flight, with Madrid top of the table.

With Lionel Messi having moved on to Paris Saint-Germain, Benzema has a major claim to be the star turn in LaLiga, and a first Pichichi trophy, which goes to the league's top scorer, is an obvious target.

Ahead of his 34th birthday in December, Benzema has perhaps never been a more credible contender for the Ballon d'Or, although the likes of Messi, Jorginho and Robert Lewandowski might deny him this time around. They, along with Benzema, were selected on a shortlist on Friday.

"Since I was a kid, it was always a dream of mine to win the Ballon d'Or... it's the dream for most players," Benzema told AS.

"It's true that football is a team game but when you help the side to win, when you're instrumental in triumphs, when you score winning goals, it's natural for any player to aspire to win the Ballon d'Or.

"Of course, I'll work as hard as I can to win that trophy and I hope, someday, fulfil the dream I had when I was a young boy."

 

Carlo Ancelotti, in the early weeks of his second spell as Madrid head coach, spoke glowingly of Benzema in August, saying: "He is a very complete player. Now he is more complete than five years ago."

Benzema feels personal recognition has been hard earned during his time in Spain.

"It's possible that it has been a struggle at times but the most important thing is that people are enjoying my style of play, that's something that makes me proud and extremely happy," Benzema added.

Benzema was an effective foil to Ronaldo as he went on to become Madrid's all-time record scorer, but the plaudits mainly went to the Portuguese, who departed for Juventus in 2018.

Last season, Benzema's 23 league goals came at a rate of one every 126.13 minutes, which he has only beaten twice in a full season at Madrid. They also came from an expected goals total of 18.81, indicating he is excelling in taking the chances that come his way.

His shot conversion rate so far in 2021-22 is 26.47 per cent, higher than he has achieved across any full LaLiga campaign since arriving in 2009 from Lyon.

He described his Madrid role as that of "a big brother figure", helping along the likes of Vinicius Jr.

It remains to be seen whether Benzema is joined at Madrid by his France team-mate Kylian Mbappe, who was targeted by Los Blancos during the last transfer window.

Mbappe is in the final year of his Paris Saint-Germain contract and could move to Madrid for free next year. Benzema has said it is "a question of time", convinced Mbappe will at some stage in his career pull on the famous white shirt.

Speaking about the 22-year-old striker, who he has played alongside for France, Benzema said: "Mbappe is an amazing talent with his brand of football and more so taking into consideration his age. He's also a really great guy and I love playing alongside him."

Karim Benzema has revealed he asked Kylian Mbappe to take France's penalty against Belgium in Thursday's Nations League semi-final so his team-mate could banish the memories of missing from the spot at Euro 2020.

Mbappe missed the crucial kick in France's shoot-out defeat to Switzerland in June's Euro 2020 last-16 tie as Les Blues suffered a shock early exit from a tournament they were deemed favourites to win.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward made no mistake from 12 yards against Belgium, though, thumping the ball into the top-right corner to level things up before Theo Hernandez's late winner set up a showdown with Spain in Sunday's final.

Benzema started France's comeback from two goals down and the Real Madrid striker was more than happy to let Mbappe take the penalty at the Allianz Stadium.

"We are both players who take penalties," he told M6. "I wanted him to take this one so I gave him the ball. I really wanted him to score. 

"After what happened at the Euros, it's been erased. On the pitch I try to make my team-mates better every time I play."

Benzema was named on the 30-man shortlist for the 2021 Ballon d'Or award on Friday after an impressive year that saw him impress for Madrid and make a surprise international comeback with France.

And fellow France forward Antoine Griezmann hailed his team-mate for the form he has shown for club and country.

"He gets the ball and puts it in the net," Griezmann told M6. "I tell him, 'when you play like that, you're just too strong for others'.

"It's awesome to watch him play, to see Karim at this level. I hope he can continue this way for Sunday's final."

Real Madrid suffered a dismal end to a humiliating week as they were stunned 2-1 by Espanyol, missing out on the chance to restore a three-point lead at the top of LaLiga.

Madrid were the victims of one of the greatest shocks in Champions League history in midweek as they were incredibly beaten 2-1 by Moldovan debutants Sheriff at the Santiago Bernabeu.

And they now only lead LaLiga on goal difference after a limp performance at RCDE Stadium, where Espanyol took a 2-0 lead through goals from Raul de Tomas and Aleix Vidal.

Karim Benzema was in inspired form, and he gave Madrid hope in the 71st minute, yet the visitors were again left to reflect on a humbling despite their star forward's best efforts.

Save for a couple of tame shots from Benzema, Madrid struggled to create chances early on despite dominating possession, and they were punished against the run of play as De Tomas stole in at the near post to turn home Adrian Embarba's low right-wing cross.

Espanyol continued in the ascendancy without adding to their lead in the first half and were fortunate not to be pegged back four minutes into the second as Eder Militao's header drifted wide.

But Madrid's attacking threat remained largely conspicuous by its absence and Espanyol doubled their advantage when former Barcelona man Vidal was allowed to surge into open space from midfield, skip past Nacho and side-foot beyond Thibaut Courtois.

The hosts should have made it 3-0 as Madrid were caught cold on the counter, only for Sergi Darder to make a horrible mess of his finish with only Courtois to beat.

Benzema was then rightly denied by the offside flag but, after Darder stung Courtois' palms at the other end, the France international gave Madrid a chance with a superb individual effort, evading several challenges on the edge of the box before bending a pinpoint strike inside the right-hand post.

And Benzema looked to have teed Eden Hazard up for a spectacular leveller, but the offside flag was again correctly raised as Espanyol held on to deal Madrid an early blow in the title race. 

Carlo Ancelotti said he hoped Kylian Mbappe "enjoys himself" at Real Madrid after Karim Benzema predicted the Paris Saint-Germain star would move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

In an interview with L'Equipe, Benzema claimed it was a matter of time until his international team-mate signs for Los Blancos.

Madrid reportedly saw three bids rejected by PSG for the France star during the transfer window, the last one said to be worth €200million.

Yet with Mbappe's contract expiring at the end of the season and no sign of an extension, the 22-year-old will be free to speak with foreign clubs over a possible free transfer from January onwards.

When asked about Benzema's comments ahead of Madrid's LaLiga clash with Espanyol, Ancelotti replied: "I hope Mbappe enjoys himself because Madrid are the biggest club in the world!"

Madrid's trip to Barcelona comes in the week when they were stunned by Champions League debutants Sheriff 2-1 at home.

Having won five matches in a row, Madrid are now without a victory in their previous two, having been held 0-0 at home by Villarreal in their most recent league match.

Ancelotti has been losing sleep over those recent results but is not concerned by recent criticism of his side or his methods.

 

"The game against Sheriff hurt our pride. We'll react and give everything tomorrow, as we did against Sheriff," Ancelotti said.

"It's true we committed small mistakes, weren't precise enough in finishing, in passing, in their few chances.

"It affected me physically because I don't sleep, and I think about what happened. When you don't win, you don't sleep.

"I accept it [criticism], whether it's fair or unfair, you have to accept it. It's normal. I have a fantastic position, and I'm lucky to be here, and you have to accept that they can criticise you.

"We need to have more balance and really assess what's happening to us. We have struggled for goals in our last two games and we need to address that in our next game. I don't think that it’s a case of this being a tough time, but it is certainly tougher than it was before, but we have to solve it by playing with balance and energy."

This weekend also sees a clash between champions Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, a game Ancelotti plans to watch as he expects both to be their main title rivals this term.

"We're going to fight with those two until the end. Atleti are maybe better coming into it," he said.

"I'm going to watch because they're two big teams, but if we do what we need to do, we're going to fight for titles."

Karim Benzema has no doubt Kylian Mbappe will play for Real Madrid and says he enjoys being part of a team trying to redevelop under Carlo Ancelotti.

Madrid reportedly saw three bids rejected by Paris Saint-Germain for the France star during the transfer window, the last one said to be worth €200million.

Yet with Mbappe's contract expiring at the end of the season and no sign of an extension, the 22-year-old will be free to speak with foreign clubs over a possible free transfer from January onwards.

France team-mate Benzema says it is just a matter of time until Mbappe becomes a Madrid player, telling L'Equipe: "He said it himself. He wants something more. He will play at Real Madrid one day. I don't know when, but he'll come. It's a question of time."

Benzema believes Madrid are going through a transition under head coach Ancelotti, with established stars such as Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane having left while youngsters including Eduardo Camavinga and Vinicius Junior take on greater prominence in the first team.

"Real Madrid are still the best club in the world," he said. "Reconstruction or not, it's a new football, a new generation, new players. We have to invest in the youngsters so they become great players one day.

"I'm here to help them. I speak a lot with them. I want to improve them."

 

It is Benzema, however, who remains the cornerstone of the side. With eight goals and seven assists in just seven LaLiga games in 2021-22, the striker has more than double the direct goal involvements of any other player in the division.

He has also attempted the most shots (26), while only Sergio Canales has created more chances from open play than Benzema (14).

His form in the past year has led to calls for him to win the Ballon d'Or, the award returning this year after being suspended for 2020, with former Madrid star Luis Figo this week backing the 33-year-old for the prize.

While he cannot deny it is on his mind, Benzema says it is important not to become too focused on personal goals at the expense of helping the team.

"We have to think about it when you have ambition, but it doesn't have to be an obsession that makes you focus on yourself, telling yourself you have to shine individually," he said.

"If you have to win it, it's because of who you are, what you show on the pitch, what you do. For Figo to say I'm one of the candidates is important."

Carlo Ancelotti is taking no enjoyment from bitter rivals Barcelona's ongoing struggles as he backed Real Madrid to continue improving.

Barca have managed just two wins from their opening five LaLiga games of the season and were beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week.

The pressure is mounting on head coach Ronald Koeman following Thursday's stalemate with Cadiz, a result that leaves the Catalan giants down in seventh place.

LaLiga leaders Madrid are already seven points better off than Barca, albeit having played a game more, but Ancelotti is only concerned about his own side's performances.

"I'm not happy if a team has a bad time," he said at Friday's news conference previewing Madrid's home match with Villarreal on Saturday. 

"I focus only on my team. If things don't go well for another team, be it Barca or another, It doesn't make me happy."

 

Madrid's thumping 6-1 win over Real Mallorca on Wednesday moved them two points clear of reigning champions Atletico Madrid at the summit ahead of the visit of Villarreal.

Los Blancos are now unbeaten in 24 league games, which is their longest such run since going 28 without defeat between March 2016 and January 2017.

Marco Asensio scored a hat-trick against his former side in that most recent match, while Karim Benzema claimed a double and provided two assists.

Benzema has now been directly involved in 15 LaLiga goals this season, surpassing former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (14) for the most of any player in the Spanish top flight this century after six games.

The France international turns 34 in December, but Ancelotti feels the prolific striker is only getting better with age.

Asked if Benzema is a contender for the Ballon d'Or award, Ancelotti said: "Because of what he's doing and has done, he has to be on the shortlist.

"But Karim still has time to win it. This will not be his last season. He's like wine – it gets better with time."

Thanks to the form of Benzema, Madrid have scored 21 goals after six LaLiga matches – their best tally at this stage since 1987-88 when registering 26 goals.

The capital club have not been as strong defensively, though, with only seven teams in the division having conceded more goals than the eight Madrid have let in.

With that in mind, Ancelotti believes there is still more to come from his side.

"The players are doing well. I have to be honest, we have focused a lot on the defensive side of our game because that needed the most improvement," he said.

"It's difficult to have a high line if there is no pressure on the ball. If there is no pressure we defend with a low block. 

"We'd like to have a line in the centre of the pitch, but it's not always possible.

"I was satisfied with the Mallorca game compared to our previous match against Valencia, but you quickly have to focus on what can be improved."

Ancelotti also revealed Eden Hazard has "trained well" this week but could not guarantee the forward, who was an unused substitute against Mallorca, would feature this weekend.

Madrid have lost just one of their 21 home LaLiga matches against Villarreal, winning 15 of those and drawing the other five.

Villarreal have therefore lost 71.4 per cent of their away matches against Los Blancos, which is their highest percentage against any opponent with at least two games played on the road.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti hailed Marco Asensio following his hat-trick performance in the 6-1 LaLiga rout of Real Mallorca.

Asensio scored three goals in his first start of the season against former club Mallorca as Madrid returned to the league summit at the Santiago Bernabeau on Wednesday.

After Karim Benzema opened the scoring in the third minute, Asensio took centre stage – the Spaniard scored on either side of Lee Kang-in's goal to give Madrid a 3-1 half-time lead.

Asensio completed his treble 10 minutes into the second half as he became the sixth Spanish player to score a hat-trick for Madrid in LaLiga this century and the first since Alvaro Morata in April 2017. 

Benzema and Isco added gloss to the scoreline, though Ancelotti heaped praise on Asensio post-match.

"I invest my experience in the team and look to give them my all, both in terms of experience and confidence," Ancelotti told reporters, with Madrid now boasting 16 points from their opening six league matches – their best start to a season at this stage since 2013-14, when the Italian boss was last in charge.

"I'm lucky to coach this brave team with a lot of quality and players who learn quickly. Asensio played very well. We knew that he can do a lot of damage and they had a lot of quality between the lines, he's a very good shot taker and he combines very well.

"Asensio has performed very well and during next week he can hopefully score three goals as well. I think this is the position.

"It can be sometimes that if we push with the full-back, defending, he can play more on the outside, but with the ball it's always the same position because he likes it. When he comes inside he has the ball on the left and he is very dangerous there."

Benzema also impressed in the Spanish capital – the in-form France international has been directly involved in 15 goals in LaLiga this season (eight goals and seven assists).

It is the best start in goal involvement of any player after the first six league games of the campaign in the 21st century.

"Karim is doing well," Ancelotti said. "He's scored eight goals and can make you forget that he is playing very well with the team, he gets behind, he contributes to the other players.

"He's a striker who doesn't just score goals. He is complete in every way.

"The day when he needs a rest weell play [Luka] Jovic, who has been doing really well. Jovic is up against really tough competition, but when he's played he's done well.

"He had two chances today and he also played extremely well against Valencia. He'll play when Benzema isn't available."

Marco Asensio scored a hat-trick against former club Real Mallorca to help Real Madrid to a 6-1 win that lifted them back above Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga. 

Mallorca youth product Asensio added to Karim Benzema's early opener and doubled his personal tally after Lee Kang-in had pulled one back for Mallorca in a lively first half to Wednesday's contest. 

Making his first start of the season, Asensio curled in a delightful third before Benzema – who also assisted a couple of goals – and Isco rounded off a thumping victory for Los Blancos at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Madrid have now collected 16 points from their opening six matches, making this their best start to a season at this stage since 2013-14 when Carlo Ancelotti was last in charge. 

Benzema scored a late winner for Madrid in their victory against Valencia last weekend and opened the scoring inside three minutes, nicking the ball off Josep Gaya's toes before racing through and coolly sliding past Manolo Reina. 

Asensio put Madrid on course for a sixth successive home league win against Mallorca 21 minutes later with a close-range finish after Rodrygo's pass was deflected into his path. 

Mallorca took just 71 seconds to respond, however, as Matthew Hoppe picked out Lee and the South Korea international got the better of Thibaut Courtois. 

But Asensio raced through to restore Madrid's two-goal lead and nearly completed his hat-trick moments later with a shot that Martin Valjent blocked on the line. 

Benzema set up Asensio's second goal and thought he had further extended Madrid's lead early in the second half, only for VAR to rule it out for a push on Joan Sastre. 

It did not take much longer for the fourth Madrid goal to arrive, though, as Asensio curled a shot away from Reina into the bottom-left corner for his first Madrid treble. 

Madrid did not let up as Benzema controlled a David Alaba pass with his back and fired a deflected shot past Reina in the 78th minute. 

The Mallorca keeper had to pick the ball out of his net once again six minutes later when Vinicius Junior teed up Isco for a simple finish. 

Karim Benzema bailed out Real Madrid once again, but the French striker insisted the 2-1 win at Valencia was richly deserved, as their unbeaten LaLiga run stretched to 23 games. 

The capital giants had trailed to a fine 66th-minute strike from Hugo Duro that looked set to take Valencia to the top of the table, but instead it is Madrid who sit on that perch with 13 points from five games. 

Captain Benzema teed up Vinicius Junior to slot in an 86th-minute leveller, with the help of a deflection, before roles were reversed for the winner two minutes later. 

A teasing cross from Vinicius was perfect for Benzema to attack, and although the ball went in off his shoulder rather than his forehead, as was the intention, they all count. 

Benzema has now scored in his last six games against Valencia, and Sunday's late show was sweet revenge for the 4-1 thumping that Madrid took at Mestalla last November. 

Coach Carlo Ancelotti described his team's spirit as "indomitable" and Benzema saw it similarly. 

The 33-year-old said: "I think it was a difficult game for us against a great team who are always difficult to beat here. 

"I think we deserved the three points that are important to us. Each game is a final, today was another final and we won. 

"All the players on the pitch and the people who came on at the end of the game to help us, it is a victory for the squad. If I can continue like this, scoring, the most important thing is that they are important for the club." 

Madrid are unbeaten in their last 18 away trips (W12 D6) in LaLiga, which equals their best such run in the competition's history, having previously reached 18 games unbeaten in 1997 (W11 D7) and 2016 (W13 D5). 

Benzema has six goals already this season in LaLiga from an expected goals (xG) total of 2.61, indicating he is having an outstanding run in front of goal. 

He has become the first player since Lionel Messi in 2011-12 to be directly involved in 11 or more goals in the first five games of a LaLiga campaign (six goals, five assists). 

This season has seen Vinicius very much come to the party too, bagging five goals from an xG of 2.3, also outperforming expectations substantially, and now adding a first assist. 

Quoted by AS, Vinicius said the win at Valencia was credit to Madrid's refusal to accept they are ever beaten.

"It is always difficult to play here, but we continue to believe and Madrid never give up," said the 21-year-old Brazilian.

"The main virtue is patience. It was the job of the coach and the whole team. We are doing things like never before. We played well, but things didn't work out and in the end we got the comeback. I am happy with the victory "

It was a victory that delighted Ancelotti, who has yet to lose a competitive game since returning to the club in the close season.

"We have not won because of quality, but because of the indomitable spirit of the team," said Ancelotti. "We continued to the end."

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