Cristiano Ronaldo stole the show with a magnificent hat-trick for Real Madrid on Saturday night to seal a convincing victory against Sevilla. The Portuguese forward was carrying a slight ankle injury, but persisted to earn his 20th hat-trick for the club. However, the presence of both Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain on the field was a surprise that should bear fruit for the remainder of the campaign.
Over the course of the La Liga winning season last term, Benzema and Higuain featured 20 times together for Los Blancos. In combining all those occasions they scored an imperious 51 goals and aided the team to 16 vital victories. In contrast, the story throughout the current campaign has been one of lack of form and persistent injuries – meaning they had only graced the field five times in unison before the weekend.
While Ronaldo has netted an outstanding 24 goals in La Liga this term, the two forwards are yet to get out of single digits domestically. Benzema has chipped in with six assists to boot, but has largely looked sluggish in the final third. Higuain has amassed a marginally more impressive goals tally, but has suffered from a prolonged absence due to a hamstring issue.
The fact that Jose Mourinho decided to start both against Sevilla was a major surprise, with Higuain leading the line and Benzema pushed to the right. In clinical dispatching, the Frenchman opened the scoring and the Argentine assisted the third goal before souring the party by picking up a second yellow card a mere five minutes later.
Aside from the dismissal with half an hour to play, the clear signs were present that the Portuguese tactician needs to employ the pair whenever possible. Their ability to hold up the ball and contribute in all departments mean they are a clearer fit that the likes of Angel Di Maria and Jose Callejon to play alongside Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The pair could feature together once again as Manchester United land at the Santiago Bernabeu for their Last 16 Champions League tie tomorrow night with Di Maria sidelined. The outing will undoubtedly be a step up from a lacklustre Sevilla, and could prove decisive as to whether they get to partner one another for the remainder of the campaign.