Benzema: My best has yet to come

Real Madrid attacker Karim Benzema has stressed that he is not at his best just yet in the wake of his fine performance in the 5-1 Liga win over Athletic Bilbao at the weekend.

The France international netted once and got two assists as he helped Los Blancos to three points in his first match after a brief spell on the sidelines due to injury.

But Benzema was quick to insist that he can still do better.

“I cannot say that this was my best match for Real Madrid, because I have been more decisive in the past,” Benzema told AS.

“The most important thing is that I felt well on the pitch after 15 days on the sidelines. My best has yet to come.”

The attacker then went on to voice his delight with Madrid’s performance as he feels they were much like the team that won La Liga last term.

“What’s important is that the great Real Madrid of last season is back again. We did some wonderful things.”

Real Madrid currently sit third in the league table, trailing leaders Barcelona by eight points.

Mancini demands perfection against Real Madrid

Roberto Mancini has called on his Manchester City side to give a “perfect” performance against Real Madrid when the Spanish giants arrive at the Etihad on Wednesday.

City are still able to qualify from their Champions League group, despite winning just once so far, but must be victorious in their two remaining games, and hope that los Blancos are unable to pick up another point.

Mancini saw his side dismantle Aston Villa 5-0 on Saturday, but has urged his players to move on from that and focus on the Liga champions.

“This was a really good performance and result but it will count for nothing against Real [Madrid],” the Italian told The Daily Mail.

“I don’t know whether it would be enough against them. They are one of the best teams in the world, and to beat them, we will have to give a perfect performance.

“We went close last time, in Madrid, and were 2-1 up with four minutes to go, but this is not going to be easy.

“It is a different game, and if we want to beat them, we will have to defend very well. They have three or four players who can decide a game at any moment, and we are going to have to work very hard as a team.”

The Premier League champions have improved defensively in recent weeks, keeping three clean sheets in their last four domestic games, but Mancini has challenged his leading lights in attack to make the difference against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co.

“At least we have improved defensively in the last four or five games, which is important,” he said.

“It is down to the whole team playing different football and having 65 per cent, or more, control of the game. That has helped us look more solid.

“If you have players who have won World Cups, like David Silva, or who have won everything in the game, like Yaya Toure, you know what you are going to get on nights like this.

“For them, playing against Real Madrid is the essence of football, and it should bring the best out of them.

“When you are young and starting out in football, you think about how much you would love to play against Real Madrid or Barcelona.

“Sergio Aguero is the same, and it could be important that he missed the game in the Bernabeu. He will want to make up for that and I think he can cause problems for Real [Madrid]. But, above all, we must play as a team.

“They have a big history, going back a long way. But I do think we have the players who can beat them. It is possible.”

Karanka happy with Cristiano Ronaldo despite not scoring

Aitor Karanka has acknowledged Cristiano Ronaldo’s performance in Real Madrid’s 5-1 demolition of Athletic Bilbao in La Liga on Saturday, claiming the Portuguese was “generous” with his contribution.

The 27-year-old, who is the Blancos‘ top scorer this season with 19 strikes, failed to add to his tally against the Basque side, with Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira sharing the goals amongst themselves.

However, the assistant coach has no issue with the forward’s failure to find the net or supply an assist and instead pointed to his overall efforts in helping the team make easy work of their victory to stay eight points behind Barcelona.

“We have already spoken too much about Cristiano’s importance to the team,” Karanka said after the match. “He may not have scored today but he was still generous as ever.”

The former Spain defender then gave his thoughts on the progress made by summer signing Luka Modric and on-loan midfielder Michael Essien.

“Modric is very talented and is growing each day,” Karanka. “Essien has played in almost every position for us, now we need to find his best one.”

Real Madrid striker Jose Callejon also stuck up for Ronaldo during the emphatic victory, reiterating Karanka’s statement that the attacker was generous and insisting the ex-Manchester United man was satisfied with his showing.

“We support him as we always do,” Callejon said. “He is very happy with the win and was always ambitious. Though he did not score, he gave assists, participated and was generous.”

Callejon: Victory perfect preparation for Man City clash

Jose Callejon has described Real Madrid’s 5-1 victory against Athletic Bilbao as the “perfect send-off” before their Champions League clash against Manchester City.

The striker is under no illusions about the midweek match being a tough one, but he believes that Wednesday’s Etihad Stadium clash is a must-win one.

“Now we are off to Manchester and we have to take all three points so that we can top the group,” he told AS. “Winning a game like this before is the perfect send-off for us.”

The 25-year-old praised the performance of Karim Benzema, who scored two goals in the victory as well as turning provider for Mesut Ozil’s strike.

“He played really well,” Callejon added. “He was the best player on the night and we are all delighted for him.”

The Spanish striker was also pleased with his own performance but insisted that the result comes before any individual glory.

“I always try to play as best as I can,” Callejon continued. “I’m delighted to be able to provide an assist and help my team-mates score.”

Madrid currently sit in second place in Group D – a point behind Borussia Dortmund – and a win against Manchester City would guarantee them European football in the second half of the season.

'Everyone will be watching Ronaldo' – Neville hails Real Madrid star ahead of Manchester City clash

Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville has praised Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of Los Blancos‘ Champions League tie with Manchester City, saying: “Everyone in that stadium will be watching him.”

The duo played together on the right flank for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side for a time and the former England international revealed that he had doubts over whether the winger could truly adapt to the English game.

He was happy to be proved wrong, however, when the 27-year-old returned from World Cup 2006 and matured quickly, with Neville describing his form as “on another planet” as he won the Ballon d’Or.

Ahead of Madrid’s vital match in Manchester, the former defender wrote in the Daily Mail: “While he may receive the kind of stick reserved for former United players, everyone in that stadium, including me, will be thinking: ‘I’m watching Cristiano Ronaldo tonight’.”

“He has helped to redefine the game by creating a new breed of flexible forward.

“He was always fascinated with becoming the best player in the world. You would always say individual honours aren’t important but, to Ronaldo, they were.

“He showed it is possible to accommodate that kind of individual ambition within a team and marry the two together.”

While Ronaldo lit up the Premier League for the Red Devils – scoring 91 goals in all competitions between 2006 and 2009 – Neville suggested that the forward left him exasperated at times.

“I will never forget coming back from a game against Charlton some time after [he] had signed for Manchester United and thinking to myself: ‘Do you know what? I just give up with him’,” he remarked.

However, Sir Alex Ferguson persevered with the forward and Neville recalls that he returned from World Cup 2006 with a point to prove, noting: “What ensued for the next two years was astonishing.

“I can’t believe anyone has ever seen anything as extraordinary in the Premier League.

“Perhaps Thierry Henry in his prime came closest but for two years this was a player on another planet, the best in the world”

Gary Neville on Cristiano Ronaldo

“I know we have had Thierry Henry, Eric Cantona and Gianfranco Zola – and perhaps Henry in his prime came closest – but for two years this was a player on another planet, the best in the world.

“For anyone who appreciates football, it will be a privilege to watch one of the great players of all time.”