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Politics and rotation frustrating top-scorer Benzema

The Frenchman is La Liga's top-scorer but has been substituted in six of eight games in a Madrid shirt so far this season. Now the pressure will be on Rafa Benitez to have more faith in his No.9.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Karim Benzema did well not to spark a war of words after he was substituted by Rafa Benitez for the sixth time in eight matches in all competitions for Real Madrid during Sunday's 1-1 derby draw at Atletico.

The Frenchman had fired Madrid ahead inside ten minutes at the Vicente Calderon and was considered by many to be the team's best player alongside penalty king Keylor Navas. Benitez took the decision to haul his No.9 off with 13 minutes left and just six minutes later Luciano Vietto bagged the equaliser. It was easy to know where to point fingers.

The 27-year-old noted some frustration after the match at wanting to play the full 90 minutes more often but refrained from getting into any confrontations with his coach - at least publically. "You need to ask the coach on that point," he told reporters after the match. "I'm a relaxed person and will keeping work hard so I'm not the player who gets taken off."

Benzema understood why Benitez made the decision, "to make the team more defensive given the result", but the plan failed and the Madrid-born coach took the bulk of the blame for his side failing to take all three points from what is one of their toughest matches of the season.

It was a familiar feeling for the forward. Benzema has finished only the matches against Shakhtar, in which he scored in a comfortable 4-0 win, and Malaga, where Madrid continued to, and failed to, find a winning goal in a frustrating stalemate against the well-drilled Costa del Sol club.

It is a feeling that extends beyond this season and Benitez, too. Although he was part of the undroppables in the starting eleven alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, he was often the man to make way in attack if the team was looking for a goal or if the match had been wrapped-up. Last season it was Javier Hernandez who replaced him and the year before Alvaro Morata or Jese.

While the demands of Real Madrid make it difficult to ever go on the defensive, Benitez's tactics to close the game out with just 13 minutes left may have at least been met by agreement from some fans, the problem was that it was the Frenchman made way.

Benzema's goal at the Calderon was his sixth of the season, making him the club's top scorer and the league's top-scorer. He has scored in six of eight matches in a white shirt so far this term, while Cristiano has only scored in two and just one in seven in La Liga, albeit with a fantastic five strikes at Espanyol. The former Lyon man has been the man in form in front of goal.

That ability to score and to take advantage of Atleti throwing men forward in search of an equaliser was not the only question mark over the change on Sunday night. Out of the front three who were on the pitch at the time, albeit with Bale playing deeper, Benzema was the man most likely to help out defensively. He links the attack but he also helps out at the back.

The decision again seemed to boil down to politics. While Benzema is a clear favourite of president Florentino Perez, an act to take Cristiano Ronaldo off the pitch was unthinkable - for Benitez and Madridistas. Yet the Portuguese star did next to nothing from start to finish. He was lacklustre in attack and did little tracking back. Common sense suggested that, with Isco having already made way for Bale, Ronaldo may have been the one to make way.

At the Calderon Benzema found himself finishing the match on the bench for the sixth time this season. It follows changes against Real Betis, Espanyol, Granada, Athletic Club and Malmo yet he continues to lead the way in goals for Madrid and throughout La Liga. In Sweden he started to show his frustrations at being substituted often and that continued against Atleti.

The result aside on Sunday night, Benitez has his defence. According to AS, the Frenchman has been on the bench for 126 minutes in total - he missed the season opener against Sporting - and Benitez will look at that as part of his rotation. The coach will say those substitutions have helped to keep his No.9 fresh and the goals that have followed provide proof that his methods are working. Why, then, does he not offer the same kind of rotation for Cristiano?

If Madrid had hung on to their lead at the Calderon little would have been said about Benzema's premature departure. Atleti have enjoyed the upper hand in derby matches on home soil in recent encounters and Benitez almost orchestrated a big win beside the Manzanares.

Now the pressure will be on the Madrid coach to give more playing time to a player who is in arguably the form of his life in front of goal.

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