Rafael Benitez hailed Real Madrid match-winner Karim Benzema as a “different number nine” after the Frenchman’s brace in the 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao pushed him closer towards reaching his 25-goal target.
Benzema continued his prolific start to the campaign in Bilbao – scoring either side of Sabin Merino’s equaliser – as Madrid negotiated arguably their trickiest test of the season so far without the likes of Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale due to injury.
Benitez had previously challenged the striker to score between 20-25 goals this term and, with six to his name already, the Spaniard revealed his delight at that blistering start.
“Benzema is a great player. He is a different number nine,” Benitez told reporters. “He and Cristiano [Ronaldo] have become a very good pairing, and when they are near the area they are very dangerous.
“I told him that the target is 20-25 goals and he is on the right track.”
A visit to San Mames tripped up Madrid last term, as they fell 1-0 in the corresponding fixture, but Benitez’s side have shown their gritty side so far this campaign and now sit top of the league.
Merino’s leveller was the first competitive goal Madrid have conceded since the former Liverpool coach’s arrival, and he was delighted with their response.
“The team has gained confidence. Everyone said that this was a test we had to pass,” Benitez added. “I’m happy because we won and the team has shown two faces – quality in the first half and character in the second.
“We lacked precision in the final shot or pass but we made up for that with our character. The quality of the players is what makes a difference”