Real Madrid 4-1 Real Betis: Reactions And Fallout

Starter/substitute dichotomy? I don't think so.

Well, Real Madrid did their job: they hosted an inferior (albeit strong) team, and ran them out of the Bernabéu with a mix of startling pace, lethal attacks, and solid defense. Los blancos' demolition of Real Betis only furthered the debate about who should be the starting center forward, as Gonzalo Higuaín secured the victory with his third hat-trick in four games. Karim Benzema must be feeling antsy sitting on the bench recovering from his injury: it seems like there has been a changing of the guard at the front of Madrid's attack, and he didn't even get to state his case. 

This narrative dominated the post-match press conferences, with various players and José Mourinho all touching on the subject. Mourinho proceeded with the most caution, as he has the most to lose (cosmically speaking): Benzema's confidence is pretty fragile, as we've seen in the past, especially in relation to his coach. 

"Starters and benchwarmers aren't distinctions that exist for me when we're talking about players this good. It's going to be hard for one player to play four or five games in a row with the other one on the bench." Source: Marca.com

He did give praise where it was due, however, and he extolled Higuaín (though in perhaps a more subdued manner):

"Karim started off the season really well, when Pipa wasn't playing great," he said. "But now Pipa's better than before."

More than anything, though, Mourinho seems content to deal with this semi-problem: 

 "Having a center forward who's essentially a guarantee is phenomenal. For me, it's no problem at all having two forwards who're having a great run of form, it's less than a problem, even; a problem would be having just one, or neither."

The man of the hour, Gonzalo Higuaín, seemed extremely happy to be going through such a great run of form. And no wonder: this is basically the first time he's looked like himself since the back injury last year! "I waited such a long time to play, so that now I can finally enjoy myself," he told a rapt press audience. "Our victory today proves that we're whole, that we're doing well, and that the international break didn't affect us."

Well, all this is great to hear. I'm very happy to see that Gonzalo is bag in form--he's going to be a very important piece for Madrid throughout the year. 

Here's a bit of editorializing for you (the sentence above is a bonus): I'm very pleased with the attitude that Mourinho expressed to the press. At a time like this it's extremely important to make sure that Benzema's mind is in the right place: we can't afford a situation where one player's success makes another player play badly. The key to this season is going to be finding out how to make all the pieces mesh together, and to play the right pieces at the right times. To repeat the old sports cliché: this is a chess match, a marathon, not a sprint. It's smart to play whatever striker is in form more, sure, but to stick to the old ideas of "one starter, one sub" is a huge mistake, especially with the core of players that we have. I'm glad to see that Mourinho recognizes this as well.

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