It’s a sliding-doors moment whose reverberations could define this gripping tie.
Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema battled to lead the fabled Los Blancos attack from the exiled France striker’s arrival in 2009 via Lyon, until the decision to jettison the former to Napoli four years later.
Debate has bubbled under ever since about whether the right centre forward remained in the Spanish capital.
Clear answers may be provided during two legs of the 2017/18 Champions League’s quarter-finals. And as you would expect from two diametrically opposed practitioners, a definite judgement involves more than just this pair’s individual scoring contributions.
Beyond the hype surrounding an anticipated replay of June’s one-sided final, in Madrid’s favour, it is key to remember we are talking about two of the sport’s premier front men of the 21st century.
Benzema’s longevity was marked this weekend with a 400th appearance for Madrid.
This is nearly double the matches managed by Ferenc Puskas and Hugo Sanchez. His tally of 189 goals also puts him sixth on the all-time list, ahead of luminaries such as Emilio Butragueno and – the Brazilian – Ronaldo.
Higuain can similarly bask in his own achievements.
A tally of 31 goals in 70 internationals makes him Argentina’s sixth-highest scorer. He only needs four more to overtake the iconic Diego Maradona.
23 - Karim Benzema has assisted Cristiano Ronaldo’s 23 La Liga goals, more than any other Real Madrid player. Essential. pic.twitter.com/TjXadaCSTO— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 3, 2018
His €90 million (Dh368m) move – €50m (Dh204.5m) less than Madrid sold him for – from Napoli to Juve in July 2016 also obliterated the transfer record on the Italian Peninsula.
When reviewing the pair’s scoring record together at Madrid, Benzema notched once more (87) than Higuain (86) from 2009-13. But the Argentine boasts a better goals-per game record (from 163 appearances) of 1.9 to Benzema’s 2.1 (from 183 appearances).
Since the pair headed in different directions, a greater divide has appeared. Benzema has notched 102 times in 217 matches, while Higuain has blossomed with 145 goals in 240 matches.
Yet, a contrast in style is worth noting. Higuain is an unadulterated No9. He comes alive when opportunity arises.
He lives and dies by his scoring record. Benzema, in contrast, is all about the collective.
In European competition and their domestic top flights since 2013/14, the Frenchman’s tally of 46 assists is 13 more than Higuain’s.
This is key when evaluating why the Argentine left, plus the glaring weakness in his game.
Huge, career-defining missed chances during the World Cup 2014 and 2015 Copa America finals stain a proud record. They lead to jibes of being a ‘big-game bottler’.
When an elite side can question your killer instinct, alternative solutions are sought.
Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Cristiano Ronaldo urged the club to dispense with the “greedy” Higuain and persist with the selfless Benzema.
The man who was on his way to becoming Madrid’s all-time-leading scorer needed a foil, not a competitor.
Even when maligned and regularly booed for scoring just nine times in 35 matches this term, Benzema possesses unflinching fans in the dressing room and head coach Zinedine Zidane’s technical staff.
This Madrid side exist to bring out the best in their unique Portuguese talisman.
Since Higuain departed, Ronaldo has been at the fore of three Champions League triumphs. They won none with him.
In this respect, their judgement cannot be questioned.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has declared he will concentrate on delivering the best performance rather than simply setting up his side to escape from Liverpool with a draw when the teams meet in Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg.
The free-scoring Premier League pair are set for a mouth-watering duel to make the last-four. Liverpool’s pulsating 4-3 victory against the Blues in January is the only top flight defeat suffered this term by the champions elect, which was partial recompense for September’s 5-0 thumping in the reverse fixture.
“I was never a manager who thought what is the best result? I focus on the performance, what you have to do,” said Guardiola. “The result is, most of the time, the consequence of what you have done.
“I don’t think about if a draw is a good result or a victory, of course scoring goals away is so important, we’re going to try score goals, [but they have] three people up front plus [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain in the middle, set-pieces with [Virgil] van Dijk, they are an extraordinary team.”
Real Madrid‘s Champions League quarter-final tie against Juventus is expected to a mouth-watering one, not just because it’s a repeat of last year’s decider, but because this year the sides will be battling it out over two legs.
And what’s come as a surprise therefore, is not the fact that the second leg at the Bernabeu is already a sell-out, but how quickly it happened.
The tickets for the game went to sale at 10am on Monday and were sold out by 10:08 am.
However, there is still a chance to buy tickets, through those who hold a season tickets.
Nevertheless, the record time in which tickets were purchased explains how much importance the game carries.