Benzema under pressure again as Morata return gives Zidane dilemma


Life has not always been easy for Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Having arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu from Lyon for an initial fee of EUR35million in July 2009, the France striker has developed into one of Madrid's most influential players and one of the world's best centre-forwards, reflected in his record of 162 goals in 317 appearances.

It has not always been plain sailing in the Spanish capital for Benzema, though.

Manuel Pellegrini often preferred to utilise Gonzalo Higuain up front, while successor Jose Mourinho rotated between the two during his three-year stay in the dugout.

Benzema still hit 20 or more goals in each of his three seasons under Mourinho, however, and eventually became the undisputed first-choice striker upon Carlo Ancelotti's arrival in 2013 with Madrid dispensing of Higuain to Napoli.

Since then, Benzema has been the focal point of a devastating attack alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale over the past two seasons, and he enjoyed his most prolific LaLiga season to date with 24 goals in 27 outings last term.

And yet the 28-year-old may find himself in an all-too familiar position this season following the return of the prodigal son Alvaro Morata.

When Madrid exercised their buy-back clause to sign Morata from Juventus it was initially reported that the plan was to sell the Spain striker on again at a profit.

But head coach Zinedine Zidane quickly poured cold water on those suggestions.

"Morata is a Madrid player and we are delighted to have him," Zidane stated. "He is an academy product who knows what Real Madrid are all about and we are happy to have him with us. He has returned home and will stay at Madrid.

"He is a very strong player and I like him. He always fights, does not shirk his defensive duties and helps his team-mates. I am very happy with him."

Morata undoubtedly played second fiddle to Benzema after breaking into the first team having graduated from Madrid's youth academy, and he opted to leave Los Blancos in July 2014 in order to play regular first-team football.

He returns a more complete player and having been one of few bright notes in Spain's poor Euro 2016 showing with three goals.

"It is incredible to be here again," he commented on his return to Madrid. "It is a dream come true and I can't wait to get started.

"I have had two great years at Juventus, I learned a lot and I can only be thankful because without this experience I would not be here."

Morata's stats at Juve suggest he is still some way off Benzema's level as 27 goals in 93 appearances represents, on the face of it, a modest return.

But his uncanny ability to step up to the plate when it matters most makes him a serious candidate for the number nine position at Madrid.

The striker rose to the occasion to guide Juve to the Champions League final in 2014-15, scoring both at home and away in the last-16 tie with Borussia Dortmund, setting up the only goal in the tie against Monaco, before his crowning moment arrived with goals in both legs against Madrid in the semi-final.

His strike in the final was eventually not enough to down Barcelona, but Morata had more than confirmed his status as one of the most exciting young attackers in the game.

He endured a difficult start to last season, but once more sprung to life in the Champions League, with important goals in the group stages against Manchester City and Sevilla, before putting in a sensational performance in Juventus' unfortunate round-of-16 exit to Bayern Munich.

That Spain crashed out of the European Championship to Italy was no fault of Morata's, and his next challenge is to prove to Zidane that he is a viable contender to usurp Benzema in Madrid's starting line-up.

Tuesday's UEFA Super Cup encounter with Sevilla could offer a good indication as to who holds the edge at this stage.

With Ronaldo and Bale unavailable, the pressure for goals is certain to land on either Benzema or Morata as Madrid aim to start their season with a trophy.

And with Benzema's availability still uncertain as he battles a hip injury, Morata perhaps has the ideal opportunity to draw first blood in what could become a compelling battle.