Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui believes Karim Benzema is at the peak of his powers

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Benzema has come in for some praise from the Real Madrid head coach.

Julen Lopetegui believes Karim Benzema is enjoying the prime stage of his career as he helps Real Madrid cope without record scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.

In-form striker Benzema has registered four times in three LaLiga games during Real’s 100 per cent start under new coach Lopetegui.

The Frenchman had been regularly overshadowed by the goalscoring exploits of Ronaldo since his arrival at the Bernabeu in 2009, finishing behind him in the goalscoring charts in each of the last nine seasons.

But, following his former team-mate’s £99.2million summer switch to Juventus, he has responded to the extra responsibility in style.

“I’m not surprised, he’s a great footballer who is in his peak and at a good age and conditions,” Lopetegui said of Benzema at his press conference ahead of the trip to Athletic Bilbao.

“We want him to continue doing what he’s doing or even better. The players are the ones who play and overcome the difficulties we face.”

Former Lyon man Benzema scored twice in the 4-1 victory over Leganes before the international break and has now found the net against each of the 33 teams he has faced in Spain’s top flight.

The 30-year-old, who has managed 131 LaLiga goals in his career, also has a good record against weekend opponents Bilbao, registering eight times.

Saturday’s fixture comes ahead of Real’s opening Champions League group game of the campaign, with Serie A side Roma due in Madrid on Wednesday.

Benzema had scored twice in Madrid's win over Leganes.

Benzema had scored twice in Madrid’s win over Leganes.

Lopetegui has the unenviable task of trying to retain the European trophy after predecessor Zinedine Zidane won it three years in a row.

Asked about rotating his team with the midweek game in mind, the former Spain coach insisted he is fully focused on the match at San Mames.

“The Roma match is coming up, but we’re only thinking about Athletic,” he said.

“You have to go into games full of energy.

“We take into account the circumstances that we’re in, but we’re looking for the best way to win a very important game against Athletic.”

Hosts Bilbao are unbeaten following their opening two matches, winning one and drawing the other.

Athletic coach Eduardo Berizzo feels Real are just as strong without 33-year-old Ronaldo, who managed 451 goals during his nine-season stay in the Spanish capital.

“I don’t think they are a weaker team as a result,” Berizzo said about the Portuguese’s departure, according to Marca.

“Cristiano sometimes dictated the selection, not in a negative way but it made the system predictable.”

The Argentinian also challenged his players to be fearless against the European champions.

“Being brave and courageous is an essential issue and our team must show that,” he said.

“When you face a rival of the stature of Real Madrid, you must value your own way of playing, they are a very balanced opponent but we must look past that.”

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Real Madrid stadium renovation plan puts transfer business in doubt

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Florentino Perez is planning major renovations to Real Madrid's famous stadium.

Renovations to their famous Santiago Bernabeu stadium could hamper Real Madrid‘s future transfer activity, according to AS. Club president Florentino Perez’s plans for the stadium could put the club in debt of up to €575million.

Madrid reportedly have €372million set aside for a big transfer, though attempts to lure Neymar or Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain never came to fruition this summer. However, the club’s financial commitments may see that transfer kitty take a hit.

The club’s income for the 2016-17 season was reported at €751million, but the last known expense figure was pegged at over €400million. Any obligations towards stadium development will be in addition to that, as well as the club’s other payment obligations – Los Blancos are on the hook for €10.1 million in the next three months and €49.9 million in the next five years, as well as €16.8 million at the start of the year in payments for players.

Even the €372 million set aside for transfers involves €182million in credit, which brings into question the financial stability of the club in the short term.

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How Isco and Marco Asensio can fit in side together as Real Madrid visit Athletic Bilbao

Andy West 14/09/2018
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Real Madrid’s perfect start to the season faces a serious challenge tonight with a trip to face dangerous Athletic Bilbao.

The Basque hosts will be fresh and ready to fire after nearly three weeks without a game, with their trip to Rayo Vallecano before the international break being postponed due to safety problems with the opposition’s stadium.

Real, contrastingly, saw most of their players in international action just a few days ago, giving manager Julen Lopetegui some interesting selection decisions – and that dilemma kicks off our pre-game talking points.

CAN LOPETEGUI LEAVE OUT RED-HOT ASENSIO AND ISCO?

Spain’s magnificent 6-0 demolition of Croatia on Tuesday was notable for a superb individual performance from young winger Marco Asensio, who scored one brilliant goal and created three more, while club teammate Isco also capped an outstanding display with a superbly-taken goal.

Now, then, Lopetegui has to consider how on earth he can possibly leave one of those two red-hot players on the bench. The coach’s 4-3-3 formation – with equally in-form Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale surely set to retain their places – leaves space for only one of them, giving Lopetegui a serious headache.

Perhaps the answer lies deeper on the pitch, where defensive midfielder Casemiro could well be suffering from fatigue after playing twice for Brazil in the United States, most recently on Tuesday night in a 5-0 demolition of El Salvador in Maryland.

The after-effects of transatlantic travel could compel Lopetegui to keep Casemiro in reserve, slotting Toni Kroos into a deeper position in front of the back four and thereby creating space for Isco in midfield, allowing Asensio to take the spot on the wing. The best solution for everyone?

Fiesta: Marco Asensio starred for Spain against Croatia.

Fiesta: Marco Asensio starred for Spain against Croatia.

WILL BALE CONTINUE TO SHINE AFTER FIVE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY?

Friday was the fifth anniversary of Gareth Bale’s debut with Real, and the Welsh winger has arguably never been better placed to make himself an indispensable player at the Bernabeu than right now.

Bale – along with Benzema – has responded to the summer departure of Cristiano Ronaldo by making a blistering start to the season, scoring in every league game to add sparkle to a series of exhilarating personal performances, converting the speculation over his future that dominated the summer into a distant memory.

However, there is always a caveat: fitness. Spanish newspaper AS devoted Friday’s front page to Bale by noting that he has won four Champions League titles during his time with the club, but also spent 393 days on the sidelines with a series of injuries.

There is a strong suspicion that many of his physical problems have resulted from unnecessary over-exertions on the international stage with Wales, and after seeing him play 165 minutes in last week’s meetings with the Republic of Ireland and Denmark, the pressure is on Bale not only to keep scoring, but just to stay fit.

GarethBale (3)

DOUBLE I SPELLS DANGER FOR REAL?

After an extremely disappointing season last time around, traditional heavyweight Athletic Bilbao are showing early signs of a resurgence under new coach Eduardo Berizzo, and the Basque hosts will be determined to return to action with a statement of intent tonight.

Two players, in particular, will be dangerous opponents for Real, starting with diminutive but crafty playmaker Iker Muniain, who is already looking back to his creative best after missing nearly the whole of last season through injury.

Muniain will be the main source of ammunition for frontman Inaki Williams, a player always regarded as rich with potential but now – at the age of 24 – facing more expectation to deliver the goods on a consistent basis.

Mainly operating from the wing, Williams has never scored more than eight league goals in a season. But with veteran striker Aritz Aduriz a declining force he is now becoming – both literally and figuratively – a more central part of the team’s plans. This weekend is the ideal opportunity for Inaki, aided by Iker, to prove he’s up to the task.

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