Real Madrid boss Rafael Benitez has described Karim Benzema as an “excellent person” after another troubled week for the France international.
Benzema was on Thursday suspended from national-team duty by the French Football Federation pending the outcome of a legal investigation into a sex-tape plot against Les Bleus team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.
The 27-year-old has been charged with complicity in an attempt to blackmail and participating in a criminal conspiracy. He denies the charges.
Despite his off-field troubles, Benzema has had a wonderful week on it, netting twice in the 4-1 victory against Getafe last weekend and then grabbing a hat-trick in the 8-0 midweek Champions League mauling of Malmo.
And Benitez has backed the former Lyon man to come through his current problems.
“What concerns me in the France suspension is Karim, we support him 100%. He’s an excellent person and an essential player for us,” Benitez told a media conference ahead of Sunday’s trip to Villarreal.
Gareth Bale was rested against Malmo, but the Welshman will return at El Madrigal alongside Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. Central defender Sergio Ramos is also in line to make his comeback following a shoulder injury.
“The BBC is fundamental to us,” added Benitez. “Bale has contributed since his arrival, giving us goals and assists. He provides more assists than anyone.”
Much has been made of apparent discord in the Madrid dressing room under Benitez, but Ronaldo this week backed the former Inter and Liverpool boss, stating he was doing a “great job” and talking up their personal relationship.
Benitez said: “The atmosphere in the dressing room is very good, everybody gets on, people insist that things aren’t good, but I insist that they are.”
Madrid start the weekend in third place in La Liga, four points behind leaders Barcelona.
Villarreal are two places and six points behind Madrid, and Benitez is not expecting an easy game.
“The team reacted well after the Clasico defeat against teams from a certain level,” he said. “Villarreal is a litmus test for us because they have a good side with a great coach.”
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