When fixtures like the Madrid derby come around, it is easy to imagine most players in world football dreaming of being a centre-forward with the match on the line.
A chance to be the hero, a shot at immortality in the eyes of your supporters when passions are at their highest.
But the men likely to lead the lines at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday know the toil behind such cinematic moments better than most – the loneliness of a goal drought and stinging torrents of criticism.
“I’m sorry for those who have discovered Karim Benzema last week,” said Real Madrid head coach Santiago Solari, with heavy sarcasm, during his French striker’s recent hot streak in front of goal. “But, hey, they still have time to enjoy him. He is in a great moment, it’s true.”
When Madrid played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final against Barcelona in midweek, Benzema was the last man standing of a celebrated trio.
Cristiano Ronaldo is enjoying life in Juventus somewhat more than Gareth Bale, who was on the Camp Nou bench as Benzema formed a front three with Vinicius Jr and Lucas Vazquez and laid on the latter’s opener.
That contribution followed a run of six goals in four matches for a forward who has endured famine more often than feast over recent seasons.
— Karim Benzema (@Benzema) February 6, 2019
Benzema’s LaLiga haul of 10 this term is already double what he managed last time around and such exploits give hope to his old team-mate Alvaro Morata.
The Spain international is back in his country’s capital on the other side of the footballing divide, having received a mixed welcome from the Atleti faithful on the back of previous associations and a spell at Chelsea that dried up worryingly.
A haul of 16 goals from 35 Premier League starts is far from terrible, but 10 of those came before the turn of the year in 2017-18.
The first of two seven-match runs without finding the net followed and Morata’s status was further hit after Maurizio Sarri replaced his long-time admirer Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge.
An unwelcome blow to Atletico’s title credentials arrived along with the new recruit’s debut in the 1-0 loss to Real Betis last weekend but he is set to partner Antoine Griezmann in attack once more against Madrid.
Morata should simply look across the centre circle this weekend to see an example of how apparently never-ending slumps can turn around quickly.
In 2016-17, while Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid were working their way towards the second of three consecutive Champions League triumphs, Benzema endured a mid-season spell of one goal in 12 LaLiga appearances.
Morata was the Madridista on the bench, enjoying starts when Zidane rotated. He was a man who dealt in goals set favourably against the striker who could not buy one.
How many he scores for Atleti will not be the sum of Morata’s worth to Simeone’s well-drilled side.
— Álvaro Morata (@AlvaroMorata) February 7, 2019
“Griezmann, you all know, feels more comfortable if he has a reference point playing ahead,” the head coach said, when outlining Morata’s role.
It is much the same for Benzema at Madrid who, after a decade as Ronaldo’s foil, now sees Vinicius being loftily compared to his former colleague. Yet he remains unbowed after almost a decade with one of the most cut-throat clubs in the business.
Morata, meanwhile, has persuaded Madrid, Juventus, Chelsea and now Atleti he is worth their time – evidence toil should give way to glory again soon enough.
Benzema’s resurgence shows him it is worth the wait.
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