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Thursday February 14 2013
The hunter or the hunted

David Cartlidge looks at Real Madrid’s misfiring striker and asks, what's eating Karim Benzema?

October 4, 2012 - what Karim Benzema would give for another one of those moments. A back-post cross from Ricky Kaka found the Frenchman in space and he rifled home an outstanding acrobatic effort. The goal, for all its splendour, now just looks like any other in his time with Real Madrid.

A goal like that then could disguise his loss of form, but the one at the weekend against Sevilla to end a 262-minute drought couldn't offer the same. This isn't just about goals though, as Benzema's whole game at the moment is the concern.

Wednesday evening’s performance at home to Manchester United highlighted the issue with Benzema. When he's not scoring goals, which is barely understandable in some quarters, he should be contributing to the team. On the ball making surging runs into the channels and swiftly cutting inside, then dropping off to link a counter-attacking burst, as well as providing hard running off the ball to take away markers. The Frenchman is doing none of this, and when he does it's without the same intent or thought as he had last term. His own situation perhaps represents that of Madrid this season on a larger scale - the work ethic, desire and imagination.

The same could be said of Gonzalo Higuain, but he has never impacted the Champions League stage like Benzema for instance. The Argentinean managed just the three goals in 12 throughout the competition last year - Benzema on the contrary hit seven in 11 games. Fortunately this season Cristiano Ronaldo has taken on some extra weight in the attack, and has admirably done superbly. The Portuguese is human though and can only do so much. This was apparent against Manchester United, where he grabbed the goal but had little in the way of support from either Benzema or later on Higuain.

The difference between the two strikers is Benzema's more fragile persona, that of a striker needing an arm around his shoulder and words of wisdom - the fight doesn't come naturally. Higuain's more independent, working hard on his own game and even though failing will try again and again.

The French media have sniped at Benzema too and have been doing so for some time, suggesting that last night’s performance was like going hunting with a squirrel rather than a cat. The odd analogy referring back to Mourinho's now infamous label of Benzema, the cat he went hunting with due to not having a dog.

“Mourinho called me that to motivate me, and make me more aggressive.” The response was almost immediate, with Benzema looking like a starved cat of the jungle rather than a common house feline gently sipping from its saucer.

The game against United perhaps was the signal that Mourinho needs to motivate his striker once again, be it publicly or behind closed doors, be it with a blunt remark or a curious one liner. Madrid's biggest night of the season failed to summon Benzema's spirit of last season and, with it, fears he will get few more chances have grown. Talk of a certain Colombian striker down the road at Atletico Madrid refuses to go away, and while on the subject of big cats few come more intimidating and instinctive than him.

He's done it once before and will have to do it again - Benzema needs to find himself before he's well and truly found out at a club that hunts you down.

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