Benzema, Putellas Win UEFA Player Of The Year Prizes

Barcelona’s Spanish forward Alexia Putellas holding her “UEFA Women’s Best Player of the Year 2021/2022 Award” talks with Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema holding his “UEFA Men’s Best Player of the Year 2021/2022 Award”, on stage in Istanbul on August 25, 2022, after the 2022/2023 Champions League group stage draw. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

 

Karim Benzema and Alexia Putellas were rewarded for outstanding seasons by winning the UEFA men’s and women’s player of the year prizes at a ceremony in Istanbul on Thursday.

France striker Benzema captained Real Madrid to victory over Liverpool in the Champions League final and scored 15 goals in the competition, while Putellas was the top scorer in the Women’s Champions League, helping Barcelona reach the final which they lost to Lyon.

Benzema took the men’s honours ahead of club team-mate Thibaut Courtois and Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, succeeding Chelsea midfielder Jorginho who won the award last year.

READ ALSO: [FULL LIST] Bayern To Play Barcelona In Champions League, Liverpool Face Ajax

The 34-year-old scored hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the Champions League knockout rounds and netted three times across the two legs of the semi-final against Manchester City.

He struck 44 times in 46 games altogether as Real also won the Spanish title.

Putellas, 28, claimed the prize for a second straight year despite suffering a serious knee injury that ruled her out of Euro 2022.

She finished ahead of England forward and European champion Beth Mead, the joint leading scorer at the tournament, and young Germany midfielder Lena Oberdorf.

Carlo Ancelotti was named best men’s coach for his success with Real, with Dutchwoman Sarina Wiegman crowned best women’s coach after leading England to Euro glory on home soil last month.

AFP

Benzema, Courtois And De Bruyne Nominated For UEFA Award

Manchester City's Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring his team fourth goal during the English Premier League football match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton, central England on May 11, 2022. Paul ELLIS / AFP
In this file photo, Manchester City’s Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring his team fourth goal during the English Premier League football match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton, central England on May 11, 2022. Paul ELLIS / AFP

 

Real Madrid pair Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne were on Friday shortlisted for the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award.

The European body of European football said that a jury made up of journalists and representatives of clubs playing in European competitions voted for the trio from a list of 15.

Polish striker Robert Lewandowski was fourth on the ballot and just missed out.

The award will be presented on August 25 during the draw for the Champions League group stage.

Real won the Spanish Liga and the Champions League.

Benzema was named Champions League Player of the Season after scoring 15 goals in the competition, including three in Real’s semi-final victory over Manchester City.

When he scored Real’s second goal against Frankfurt on Wednesday in the European Supercup, Benzema became the club’s second-highest scorer in history with 324 goals, behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

Courtois was spectacular as Real edged Liverpool 1-0 in the final and was named player of the match.

De Bruyne made the shortlist for the third straight year after inspiring City to the Premier League title.

Jorginho won the title last year after winning the Champions League with Chelsea and the delayed Euro 2020 with Italy.

UEFA also announced the three nominees for coach of the year

They are Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti, Man City’s Josep Guardiola, and the man they had to beat to win their biggest titles last season: Liverpool’s Juergen Klopp.

AFP

Benzema, Asensio On Target As Real Madrid Down Juventus In Friendly

Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the international friendly football match between Real Madrid and Juventus at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on July 30, 2022. Robyn Beck / AFP

 

Karim Benzema converted an early penalty and Marco Asensio added a second-half insurance goal as Real Madrid beat Juventus 2-0 in a pre-season friendly at California’s Rose Bowl on Saturday.

With his eye on Real Madrid’s European Super Cup clash with Eintracht Frankfurt in 10 days, coach Carlo Ancelotti started the same lineup that beat Liverpool in the Champions League final in May.

They produced the first victory of Real Madrid’s United States tour, after a 1-0 loss to La Liga rivals Barcelona in Las Vegas and a 2-2 draw against Mexico’s Club America in San Francisco.

Spectators were still trickling into the stands when French star Benzema had a goal disallowed just eight seconds into the contest, Uruguay’s Federico Valverde’s through ball catching him offside.

Eden Hazard #7 of Real Madrid is fouled by Glieson Bremer #3 of Juventus during the second half of their friendly soccer match at the Rose Bowl on July 30, 2022 in Pasadena, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP

 

Juventus had their best chance of the match in the 13th minute, but Leonardo Bonucci’s direct free kick hit the crossbar.

Benzema opened the scoring with a penalty in the 19th, crisply firing into the bottom left corner after Juventus’ Danilo brought down fellow Brazilian Vinicius Junior with a sloppy move in the penalty area.

Pressing hard to put the match to bed after the interval, Real Madrid were thwarted by Juventus goalkeeper Mattia Perin, who denied a sharply angled shot by Daniel Carvajal before soaring to stop a long-range left-footed blast from Benzema in the 62nd minute.

Two minutes later, Benzema was among the departing players as Ancelotti made nine substitutions.

He received an ecstatic cheer from the largely pro-Real crowd of 93,702 at the Rose Bowl, the picturesque stadium tucked into the foothills northeast of Los Angeles that was the venue for the 1994 World Cup final.

Asensio was among the substitutes and quickly made an impression, sweeping a cross from the left by Jesus Vallejo into the net with his left foot.

It was enough to seal the win in a match in which Juventus barely tested Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

AFP

‘I Can’t Do Much More’ To Win Ballon d’Or – Benzema

Real Madrid’s French striker Karim Benzema celebrates with the Champions League trophy after Madrid ‘s victory in the UEFA Champions League final football match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on May 28, 2022.
Paul ELLIS / AFP

 

 

Karim Benzema admitted he had done all he could with Real Madrid this season to make himself favourite for the Ballon d’Or after helping the Spanish giants beat Liverpool 1-0 in Saturday’s Champions League final in Paris.

Benzema did not score in the final at the Stade de France as Vinicius Junior netted the only goal of the game, but the Frenchman finished as the Champions League’s top scorer with 15 including 10 in the knockout rounds.

“Of course,” the 34-year-old told Canal Plus when asked if the Ballon d’Or was on his mind after a season in which he also won La Liga with Real Madrid.

“Now I will join up with the national team but I don’t think I can do much more with my club.

“We will see what happens, but in any case I am proud of what I have done.”

Benzema will join up with the France squad for a series of UEFA Nations League games in June after finishing the season with 44 goals altogether for Real.

He scored hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the Champions League knockout rounds and netted three times across the two legs of the semi-final against Manchester City.

“There is no luck,” he said in reference to a series of remarkable comeback wins on their run to the final.

“You can be lucky once but not every time. We deserve our victory. We put in the effort, we came back every time, we never gave up.

“Every player is important in our squad, whether they are a starter or a substitute, or they don’t play often but give everything in training.”

Benzema, who has now won five Champions Leagues with Real, added that ending the season as the competition’s top scorer was “exceptional”.

“But the most important thing is to win this fifth Champions League.”

The winner of the Ballon d’Or will be revealed in a ceremony in Paris in October, before this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Clasico Demolition Vindicates Barcelona, Shifts Doubts To Real Madrid

Barcelona’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

A Clasico that was supposed to mean very little, in the end, meant an awful lot as Barcelona gave a resounding answer to questions about their revival and instead left Real Madrid shrouded in doubt.

Most believed there was no result on Sunday that could derail Madrid’s march to the La Liga title but even that feels less certain now. A defeat like this, 4-0 at home, and against Barcelona, was perhaps the only kind that might prompt a collapse.

In that regard, Madrid will be relieved, not only that Barca are still points 12 points adrift, albeit with a game in hand still to play, but that a two-week international break gives them some breathing space, time to stabilise and recover.

It will allow Karim Benzema time to recover too, with the Frenchman’s absence undoubtedly a factor in Madrid’s spinelessness against Barcelona, who took advantage to devastating effect.

Barca’s place in the top four is surely now secure, which will be celebrated by the club’s accountants as much as anyone else.

For all the excitement and enthusiasm generated by Xavi’s team on the pitch, the harsh reality is the club’s financial ills will take longer to cure. Only last week La Liga set Barcelona’s spending limit at -144 million euros.

READ ALSOAubameyang Scores Brace As Barcelona Humiliate Real Madrid

Barcelona’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP 

 

They will certainly believe second place is now a realistic target, particularly given Sevilla’s stuttering form.

They might even look at Madrid’s remaining fixtures to come against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano and wonder if the comeback could yet be on.

“If there is the slightest option to take advantage, we will go for it,” said Sergio Busquets.

More likely, though, is the consequences of this result for both clubs will be longer-term and wider-reaching.

As Barcelona celebrated at the full-time whistle, saluting their fans up in the highest corner of the Santiago Bernabeu, one or two of the younger players began to jump and dance. Before others could join, a huddle was formed and when the players emerged, it was noticeable the celebrations were more restrained.

As Xavi said after the match, it had been a statement victory, one that will go down with even the most dramatic Clasico hammerings, but the table alone shows there is more work to do.

“We have not won a trophy here,” said Xavi. “We must keep working with humility.”

Yet Gerard Pique, never one to hide his opinions on social media, could not resist. “We are back,” he tweeted, while inside the changing rooms the players were ecstatic, among them Ousmane Dembele, who did not look like a player about to leave for free in the summer.

A victory and a performance like this will make current players eager to stay and potential targets want to come.

The problem for Barcelona is, for all the attractiveness of Xavi’s project, they will be restricted again to the kind of opportunistic deals that they struck in January with such success.

Barcelona’s Gabonese midfielder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with eight goals in 11 games, has been a revelation.

But to keep pulling off similar deals will be difficult. Barcelona might well be contenders again in La Liga next season but the gap to Europe’s most rich and powerful will take longer to close.

Perspective was the keyword afterwards for Carlo Ancelotti too, who reeled off Real Madrid’s achievements so far this season like a coach who knew he was suddenly under scrutiny.

It is a testament to the depth of the rivalry between Spain’s two biggest clubs that for some, a whole season’s work can be undone in 90 minutes.

“I am very sorry for the defeat, I am very sad but I keep it in perspective, which is that we have a nine-point lead in the league and we’re in the quarter-finals of the Champions League,” Ancelotti said.

The two legs against Chelsea certainly assume greater significance now and it remains to be seen how much confidence is affected for the first game at Stamford Bridge, which is Real Madrid’s second match back after the break.

They will need Benzema fit and firing, with the Clasico underlining the failure of the club to sign suitable cover for the 34-year-old, and of Ancelotti to integrate his possible replacements. The plan to field Luka Modric upfront backfired completely.

Any doubts Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had about Ancelotti’s future longer-term will come into sharper focus, particularly if he thinks one of the world’s most impressive coaches like Mauricio Pochettino, Erik Ten-Haag, or even Thomas Tuchel could be lured in the summer.

Perez has opted for more conservative appointments in recent years, to oversee smooth transitions and to accommodate an iconic group of ageing players, but what the Clasico showed was Xavi’s Barca are a threat that cannot be ignored now. Madrid might also have to be bolder to confront it.

AFP

Benzema-Led Madrid Comeback Stuns PSG

Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16-second league football match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 9, 2022.
GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

“Real Madrid are still alive,” said Karim Benzema, the 34-year-old striker who scored a second-half hat-trick as Paris Saint-Germain again self-destructed in the Champions League knockout stages.

PSG were cruising at 2-0 up on aggregate after Kylian Mbappe’s 39th-minute strike.

For an hour the Paris club looked assured of a last-eight berth, but Benzema turned the tie on its head with three goals in 17 minutes as Real swept to a 3-1 win and 3-2 aggregate triumph.

Even by PSG’s standards, this was an epic collapse, five years to the day since Barcelona overturned a 4-0 last-16 first-leg deficit against them by winning 6-1 at Camp Nou.

Lionel Messi and Neymar were in Barcelona colours that day, but both were on the receiving end this time, unable to rid PSG of their habit of crumbling when it matters most.

Madrid’s comeback may not have matched that night in Barcelona for scale or drama –- Benzema’s winner came in the 78th minute not the 95th and Madrid came from two behind, not four -– but the impact might be greater.

In the year of the controversial World Cup in Qatar, Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe were stitched together with limitless resources from the oil-rich Gulf state to win the Champions League, not crash out in the last 16.

Defeat throws Mauricio Pochettino’s future as a coach into serious doubt, raises further questions about Messi’s departure from Barca and prolongs the Qatari-owned club’s wait for that elusive European crown, despite more than a billion euros splurged on transfers.

Mbappe closer to leaving

Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe reacts during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second league football match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 9, 2022.
GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

“We have not managed our emotions well and we left ourselves too exposed,” said Pochettino.

Mbappe took a step closer to leaving. The 23-year-old, out of contract in the summer, was at his scintillating best at his prospective new Santiago Bernabeu home, where the Madrid fans applauded his name.

Mbappe’s sales pitch, if he needed one, was perfect. He showed why he is regarded as the best player in the world at the moment, while Madrid in return confirmed they are a more serious European title-winning prospect than PSG.

When Zinedine Zidane led Real Madrid to Champions League victory in 2018, they enjoyed a run of similar great escapes in the knock-out stage, and few believed they could win the trophy then either.

Doubts linger around Carlo Ancelotti’s side at the very highest level. For the entirety of the first leg in Paris and for 60 minutes of the second, Madrid were inferior to PSG, who made them look slow, heavy-legged and like a team whose core are in their mid-thirties.

It is possible the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea or Bayern Munich would do the same, but without the late capitulation.

And yet this is not the first time Madrid have proven itself to be great survivors on the European stage. Through experience, belief and sheer force of will, Real Madrid always tend to go further than they should.

‘Mental strength’

Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar (R) and Paris Saint-Germain’s Italian midfielder Marco Verratti react after Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema scored his team’s third goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second league football match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 9, 2022.
JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

“We have suffered a lot, but we have endured. After (our) first goal there was only one team on the pitch,” said Ancelotti.

“We won the match with our mental strength,” said Benzema.

In Benzema, they have one of the world’s classiest strikers, an all-rounder getting better with age who sent a message that he wants to play with, not instead of, his fellow Frenchman Mbappe if he arrives in Madrid.

Luka Modric was sensational again, stepping up in the second half, the highlight of which was his contribution to Benzema’s second goal with an exquisite reverse pass.

Thibaut Courtois, at 29 among the best goalkeepers on the planet, prevented Mbappe from scoring at least twice more.

Real Madrid, though, still lack the mobility and dynamism of Bayern and the Premier League’s leading lights. Saving up for Mbappe for the last three years has seen to that.

And while Ancelotti is an expert man manager, he is not a visionary coach in the mould of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Julian Nagelsmann, all of whom are currently at the forefront of the game’s tactical thinking.

Yet Real Madrid remain alive. They came back to beat PSG with the old instincts kicking in and the fans singing at the end: “This is how we win.” It was hard to disagree.

-AFP

Benzema Not Upset After Ballon d’Or Snub – Ancelotti

 

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said on Tuesday Karim Benzema is “not crying” about missing out on winning his first Ballon d’Or.

Lionel Messi, who left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain last summer, won the Ballon d’Or for a record seventh time on Monday.

The 34-year-old Messi led Argentina to the Copa America title in July and has scored 40 goals in 2021, including 28 for Barca.

Benzema, 33, finished fourth behind Messi, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, and Chelsea midfielder Jorginho.

In his Madrid press conference on Tuesday, Ancelotti was asked if the Ballon d’Or “still has credibility” following Messi’s latest victory.

“We have to respect the decision. Messi won and he’s still a great player,” Ancelotti said.

“For the players, individual awards are important and they give motivation – but if they don’t win them, it doesn’t matter.

“Benzema has had a great season and finished fourth and now he will have extra motivation to finish first next year.”

Ancelotti added: “It’s an important award but it’s still individual. Karim Benzema isn’t crying about not winning it, nor Thibaut Courtois. They have accepted it without any problems.”

Ancelotti said he would have voted Benzema, Vinicius Junior and Luka Modric as his top three.

Vinicius scored a scintillating late winner against Sevilla on Sunday as Madrid moved four points clear at the top of La Liga.

They could extend that advantage to seven points by beating Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

“I don’t know if we are favourites for La Liga but we’re playing well and we’re consistent,” Ancelotti said.

Ancelotti also said Madrid will not sign any players in January but admitted unhappy players could be allowed to leave.

Some players like Isco and Eden Hazard have found themselves out of favour under Ancelotti this season.

Ancelotti said Hazard will be available against Athletic Bilbao but insisted the Belgium attacker “must improve his fitness because he’s had problems of different kinds.”

“I don’t like January signings much. If we have players who aren’t happy, it’s something we can think about but we are not going to sign anyone.

“We have enough to compete until the end of the season.”

Benzema Handed One Year Suspended Sentence Over Sex Tape 

In this file photo taken on April 3, 2021, Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema reacts during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and SD Eibar at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas on the outskirts of Madrid. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

 

A French court on Wednesday gave Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema a one-year suspended sentence for complicity in a bid to blackmail his former France team-mate, Mathieu Valbuena, with a sex tape.

The sentence was tougher than that sought by prosecutors against the 33-year-old player over the 2015 extortion attempt, which led Benzema to be cast out of the France team for five-and-a-half years.

Benzema was not in court in the Paris suburb of Versailles for the verdict, which comes hours before Real Madrid take on Sheriff Tiraspol in a Champions League game in Moldova.

His defence team immediately announced plans for an appeal.

Speaking to reporters at the courthouse, one of his lawyers, Sylvain Cormier, said he was “quite stunned by the ruling”.

The prosecution had called for Benzema, who was one of five people charged over an affair that rocked the French national team, to be given a 10-month suspended sentence.

Benzema did not attend his trial last month, citing professional commitments.

The verdict is not expected to damage his career, with French football federation president Noel Le Graet saying he could keep his place in Les Bleus even if convicted and Real Madrid also remaining supportive of their star player.

But Benzema’s conviction nonetheless cast a pall over his stunning comeback to the national team earlier this year after a years-long absence.

Benzema has scored nine times since being recalled by France manager Didier Deschamps for the Euro 2020 finals — delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic — making him the fifth-highest scorer in the history of Les Bleus.

AFP

 

Benzema Set To Return For Madrid Derby, Says Zidane

 

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema leaves the pitch at the end of the Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) quarter-final football match Real Madrid CF against Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on February 06, 2020. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
FIle photo: Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema leaves the pitch at the end of the Spanish Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) quarter-final football match Real Madrid CF against Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on February 06, 2020.
JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Karim Benzema will be fit to play some part in Sunday’s derby between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, Zinedine Zidane said on Friday. 

Benzema has missed Real Madrid’s last three games with a groin injury but Zidane said the Frenchman will return at the Wanda Metropolitano, although would not say if he will start.

“We are happy to see him again with us. He will be with us and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow,” said Zidane in a press conference on Friday.

Benzema, who has scored 12 goals in La Liga this season, trained on Thursday and Friday ahead of the match, which could prove crucial in the Spanish title race.

“We are not going to risk anything,” Zidane added. “If there is a doubt, I don’t like it, because you can do more damage and the players that are going to play must always be 100 per cent.”

Real Madrid have been unable to score more than once in the last three games without Benzema, despite creating plenty of chances in a 1-1 draw at home to Real Sociedad on Monday.

“We know what Karim is, it’s not just about the goals,” said Zidane. “Karim is a focal point so he is important in our system, especially when we have the ball.”

Their slip against Real Sociedad leaves Madrid five points behind Atletico, having played a game more, meaning defeat this weekend could give Zidane’s side too big a gap to close.

“Whatever happens tomorrow, we will still be alive in La Liga,” Zidane insisted.

Sergio Ramos is missing with a knee injury while back-up striker Mariano Diaz is also out with a problem in his pelvis.

Eden Hazard is still nursing a thigh strain. “There hasn’t been a setback, we just want Eden at 100 per cent when he is back,” said Zidane.

-AFP

In-Form Benzema Has Madrid On ‘Right Track’ For Title Charge

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema eyes on the ball prior to shooting and scoring his second goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Valencia CF at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on June 18, 2020. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema eyes on the ball prior to shooting and scoring his second goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Valencia CF at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on June 18, 2020.
JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Real Madrid’s top scorer this season Karim Benzema said the La Liga champions are “on the right track” ahead of potentially returning to the top of table with a win at Eibar on Sunday.

Madrid, who last led the league last season, trail leaders Atletico Madrid and second-placed Real Sociedad on goal difference after a Benzema double in Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao took his tally up to 10 across all competitions for the campaign.

Coach Zinedine Zidane had been under pressure following a run of three games without a win in November with Spanish press linking former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino and ex-Madrid forward Raul forward to the Frenchman’s job.

“We are on the right track. We work together, we score goals, we don’t concede,” Benzema told the club’s television channel.

“We have to continue game by game. They are all finals and three points,” the 32-year-old added.

Zidane hailed Benzema, who last played for France in 2015, as the best centre-forward in their country’s history after his midweek performance.

The World Cup winner praised Benzema’s selfless efforts with the forward supplying three assists this term.

“That’s why I like him so much, I love him, he’s not only thinking about goals,” he said.

“He gets involved in the game, if he needs to pass to a teammate he’ll do it.”

Before Madrid’s trip to the Basque Country late on Sunday, Atletico host 14th placed Elche on Saturday for their first league fixture since last weekend’s capital city derby loss to Zidane’s men.

Forward Diego Costa returned to training this week after recovering from thrombosis but is unlikely to feature for Diego Simeone’s side before the end of the calendar year.

Later on Saturday, early runaway leaders Real Sociedad head to Levante but have drawn their previous six fixtures in all competitions and will be without Belgium playmaker Adnan Januzaj due to a muscle problem.

Fifth-placed Barcelona welcome Valencia after defender Jordi Alba described Wednesday’s win over Real as their “best game of the season”.

It allowed the Catalans to move six points off the leaders ahead of this weekend.

Player to watch: Mikel OyarzabalSociedad’s captain has been sidelined with a muscle problem since December 3’s Europa League draw with Rijeka but could come back for the trip to Ciutat de Valencia.

The Spain attacker had scored seven goals and created three more, and the Basques failed to win and dropped down to second in his absence.

Fixtures (times GMT)

Friday

Athletic Bilbao v Huesca (2000)

Saturday

Atletico Madrid v Elche (1300), Barcelona v Valencia (1515), Levante v Real Sociedad, Osasuna v Villarreal (both 1730), Sevilla v Real Valladolid (2000)

Sunday

Celta Vigo v Alaves (1300), Granada v Real Betis (1515), Cadiz v Getafe (1730), Eibar v Real Madrid (2000)

Real Madrid Win 34th La Liga Title

Real Madrid’s players celebrate winning La Liga title after the Spanish League football match between against Villarreal CF at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on July 16, 2020. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Real Madrid were crowned La Liga champions for the 34th time on Thursday after Karim Benzema scored twice in a 2-1 victory over Villarreal which clinched the title with one game to spare.

Benzema’s double included a second-half penalty at the empty Alfredo di Stefano Stadium as Madrid moved seven points clear to end Barcelona’s two-year hold on the trophy.

Barca had to prevail against Osasuna at home and hope Madrid slipped up but their fading challenge ended with a 2-1 defeat at Camp Nou, despite a brilliant Lionel Messi free-kick.

It means Madrid claim their third La Liga title in 12 years, after a relentless run of form since Spanish football resumed on June 11 following the coronavirus pandemic.

Zinedine Zidane’s side have won 10 games out 10 since the restart. They have conceded four goals in that time and never been behind in a match.

“For me, this is one of the best days in my professional career,” said Zidane. “After lockdown and everything, it’s astonishing.”

Asked if it trumps the Champions League titles Madrid won in his first spell as manager, Zidane said: “This is better than anything. It takes a tremendous effort to win La Liga. After 38 matches, you have more points than anyone else. It’s bloody fantastic.”

Madrid have also been awarded five penalties during the run-in, some of them controversially, and this one caused a stir too as Sergio Ramos tried to roll the ball to Benzema, who finished, but had entered the area too early.

Much to Villarreal’s irritation, Madrid were allowed to retake and this time Benzema made no mistake before Vicente Iborra headed in what proved a late consolation.

“It’s a prize for all the work we’ve done, this is the reward,” said Ramos. “We have one more match and we want to win 11 out of 11.”

 

– Setien under pressure at Barca –

After three months away, Barcelona had returned sitting top of the table but draws with Sevilla, struggling Celta Vigo and Atletico Madrid allowed Madrid to take charge.

Barca were also in first place when they sacked Ernesto Valverde in January and while the club’s problems go deeper than their coach, Quique Setien’s position will come under scrutiny.

“Things have to change,” said Messi. “Everyone here in the club will be feeling very angry about what has happened this season and that’s normal. The players feel like that too.”

Messi added: “We have to be self-critical, starting with the players, but across the whole club.”

benzema
Real Madrid players celebrating a goal in the La Liga game with Villarreal on 16th July, 2020. Photo: [email protected] Madrid CF

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said this week that Setien will remain in charge for next month’s Champions League tie against Napoli but the coach’s decision to leave Luis Suarez out of the starting line-up for a second consecutive game will raise questions.

Yet few could argue Madrid deserve the title and it was fitting that Benzema delivered it, his double taking his tally for the season to 26 in all competitions.

His first came after 28 minutes when Casemiro stole possession in midfield and freed Luka Modric. He slid through Benzema, who fired through the legs of Sergio Asenjo.

Ramos had scored five goals himself since the restart and could have had a sixth after he was tripped by the dangling leg of Sofian Chakla.

But his ploy to tee up Benzema backfired when his teammate encroached too early. Benzema converted the re-take.

Iborra headed in Mario Gaspar’s cross to set up a nervy finish but Barcelona were still being held by Osasuna.

Messi’s curling free-kick into the top corner had cancelled out Osasuna’s opener from Jose Arnaiz, once of Barca B.

But Osasuna had a final trick up their sleeve as Roberto Torres finished at the back post to wrap up Barca’s miserable night at the end of a turbulent season.

Real Mallorca’s hopes of survival are over after they lost 2-1 at home to Granada but Alaves guaranteed their safety by winning at Real Betis.

With Espanyol already down, the final relegation spot will be between Celta Vigo, who lost 3-2 to Levante, and Leganes, who beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0.

Leganes are a point behind and play on Sunday at home to Real Madrid while Celta visit Espanyol.

AFP

French Prosecutors Want Benzema To Stand Trial Over Sex Tape

Benzema's Blackmail Case Heads For Possible Final Hearing
File: Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema gestures during the Spanish league footbal match between Malaga CF and Real Madrid CF at La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga on April 15, 2018.JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

French prosecutors on Thursday asked for ex-national team star and Real Madrid footballer Karim Benzema to face trial on charges of involvement in an alleged attempt to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape almost five years ago.

Prosecutors in Versailles outside Paris told AFP they want Benzema tried on charges of complicity in attempted blackmail over the incident in 2015. If convicted, he could face a five-year prison sentence.

Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, said he was “not at all surprised” by the request. “These are false and unjustified charges,” he added. “It’s in line with what the prosecution has been doing in this case from the start.”

READ ALSO: Leicester Need To ‘Reset Mentally’ To Qualify For Champions League – Rodgers

Four others should also face trial, they said, but not former Liverpool and French international Djibril Cisse who had previously been implicated in the probe.

It is now up to the court to decide if a trial should take place and fix a date for the process to begin.

Benzema, 32, is suspected of encouraging his former teammate in the France team Valbuena to pay blackmailers who threatened to make the intimate video public.

According to the prosecution, Benzema evoked the existence of the video to Valbuena while the French team was preparing in October 2015 for a friendly match against Armenia in Nice.

Benzema contends all that took place was a simple and friendly conversation to warn his international team-mate that such a tape existed.

Valbuena, however, alleges that there was the implication he had to pay to keep it out of the public sphere.

Benzema was indicted and briefly detained in November 2015 just before France was the next year to host the Euro 2016 football championship.

He has never since added to his 81 appearances for France and insists he is innocent. Valbuena, who played 52 times for the national side, has also never since played for France.

Cisse had been the first to inform Valbuena that the video existed but insists he was simply warning the footballer.

Benzema is the second highest scorer in La Liga this season for a Real side that is chasing just a second Spanish title in eight years.

However, French football federation president Noel Le Graet has said on a number of occasions that Benzema’s international career was effectively over.

After being left out of the France squad for Euro 2016, Benzema accused the national coach Didier Deschamps of bowing “to pressure from a racist part of France”.

But Deschamps has said that not selecting Benzema was better for the “balance” and “harmony” of his squad.

“As long as Didier Deschamps is coach, I have no chance of getting back into the France team,” Benzema said in 2017.