As Lucas noted in the match recap, Karim Benzema registered a big-time performance yesterday against Athletic, perhaps his best as a Real Madrid player. Luckily for Big Benz, one of the many viewers around the world who recognized his dominance was assistant coach Aitor Karanka, who said this of the striker after the match:
"Benzema gives us vision, support and movement, and his second goal made his display perfect. Today he was focused and clinical"
Those words come to us courtesy of Goal.com where Karanka also went on to praise Los Blancos for their mental toughness and focus, saying:
The team maintained their intensity until the end. We could have let Athletic make it 3-2 after they pulled one back, but we talked about it...In the second half, we were better defensively and then more goals came. This league does not allow setbacks so we must continue on this path...We know we cannot fail. We are always playing after Barcelona so we must always win."
I know the exact point in the match Karanka is referring to, as there were a few wobbly moments after Ibai Gomez scored for Bilbao in the 42nd minute. Real Madrid did indeed show resolve and mental toughness, regaining their equilibrium before Bilbao could gain any further footing in the match.
For some reason much seemed to be made (in some circles) of Cristiano Ronaldo's failure to score against Bilbao, which, I guess, can be read as yet another testament to his utter dominance and outrageous consistency over the past two years. Nevertheless, Sergio Ramos commented on Cristiano's absence from the score sheet, telling reporters in an ESPNSTAR.com report that:
"He is a really ambitious footballer, who lives on goals. Maybe he'll be a bit upset about not scoring but he'll be happy with the win."
The stalwart defender, who himself scored on a piledriving header made possible by absolutely beautiful service from Mesut Ozil, went on to praise Real Madrid's depth, saying:
"The good thing about this team is the wide range of players who can create chances and that not always the same players score"
Ramos then addressed the tireless quest to draw level with Barcelona at the top of the table, emphasizing that:
"Although we were unable to reduce points difference with Barcelona, we are happy with the job that we have done. We saw a Real Madrid eager to fight for the win from the first minute and that's important. Football is about momentum and physically and mentally the team is in good form and we have to keep things going"
Aitor Karanka also weighed in on the Cristiano non-controversy, where, according to Real Madrid.com, he said the following:
"I don’t think that Cristiano ever has to justify anything to us. We know him very well and we have spoken of what is for this team too many times. Those of us in there, living with the team, know how important he is. He did not score in this match but made some assists, he was very generous."
We can end where we began with an excellent summary of the wide array of praise garnered by Karim Benzema for his efforts yesterday with a sampling of gushing, laudatory Spanish press headlines provided by Real Madrid.com:
"'Goal, assist and magic' or 'Benzema gives a lesson in dribbling, passing, timing and control', are just some of the ways in which the above mentioned papers describe the performance of the Frenchman. The headline of El País also leads with reference to the forward, 'Benzema's performance was a work of art', and these words: 'The solemnity of the Frenchman prevailed over all others and left the team from the Basque country at sixes and sevens'. ABC places the emphasis on his elegance, 'Karim scores a goal of pure class. The whole stadium were on their feet to applaud a genius at work'. Both El Mundo and La Razón also praise the forward. 'Benzema provided an exhibition of finesse and efficiency' says the former, while the latter points out that 'Benzama was the star. He proved that he is able to score and pull the strings for his team like a forward of the 21st century.'"
And, also, a brief sampling of praise from French media outlets:
"In France, L’Equipe highlighted its compatriot: "Involved, applied and decisive, this might just have been his best game of the season. If he maintains this level of performance, he will be the undisputed number 9 for France". In France Football, "No-one could argue that Benzema produced one of his best performances since arriving at Real Madrid in 2009". The French radio station RMC was full of praise for him on its website: "He was unquestionably the man of the match."
Hope you enjoyed the show, Madridistas! A rowdy, treacherous trip to Manchester is on the horizon.