If there’s one subject which Zinedine Zidane has addressed more often recently than the future of James Rodriguez, it is the form of Karim Benzema.
The French striker has consistently failed to perform at his best for several months, with a series of niggling injuries contributing to a frustrating campaign for Benzema, who has netted just four goals in 11 league outings this season.
There is also an inescapable sense that Benzema’s regrettable habit of getting himself into off-the-field scrapes is catching up with him – especially his ongoing banishment from the French national team amid allegations that he attempted to extort teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
In his body language and his tentativeness in front of goal, Benzema certainly looks to be lacking in confidence.
That is a key commodity for any striker, especially one like the Real Madrid number nine who relies on touch and finesse rather than brawn.
Until now, Zidane has always stoutly defended his fellow Frenchman by insisting that he is perfectly relaxed with the striker’s performances.
But the coach’s comments on Tuesday, when he acknowledged Benzema’s poor showing against Barcelona on Saturday while defending his work ethic, appeared to suggest he is finally running out of patience.
That would be no surprise, because Benzema was shockingly ineffective at the Nou Camp, even suffering the ultimate humiliation (for a striker) of being substituted despite his team chasing an equaliser.
With Alvaro Morata returning from injury for Wednesday night’s Champions League meeting with Borussia Dortmund, Cristiano Ronaldo spending more time as a centre forward rather than a left winger, Isco performing well in a withdrawn striker’s in the derby win at Atletico and Mariano Diaz pushing for more regular involvement, Zidane has got options.
It might be time for him to use them, because Benzema’s ongoing failure to reach his best is threatening to seriously hamper the team – it could easily be argued, for example, that a better striker would have allowed Madrid to turn their first half dominance at Barcelona on Saturday into goals.
If Benzema gets another start and fails again tonight, it might be his last for a while.