Benzema: I respect Mourinho's decision to play Higuain more

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has revealed that there was no discussion with Jose Mourinho over a lack of playing time, and insisted that he respects the coach’s decision to play Gonzalo Higuain more often.

The France international also dismissed speculation over a move to Paris Saint-Germain, whilst insisting that he would be open to the captaincy of the national team.

“It is true that I have less playing time than last year,” the 24-year-old told TF1’s Telefoot. “But I am someone who battles, and that’s from the beginning of my career.

“I will continue like this with the aim of playing more and scoring more.

“There was no discussion [with Mourinho]. I respect his choice [to play Higuain more]. When he calls me, I try to be decisive.

“I can finish my career at Real – it’s possible we’ll see. For now, I feel very comfortable here.”

Benzema sought to dismiss speculation about a move back to Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain, and also insisted that Samir Nasri should not be slated by the media and the general public so heavily.

“For now, I am at Real and I do not want to leave,” he said, when asked about the PSG rumours. “Paris invests in very good players like Thiago Silva and [Zlatan] Ibahimovic. But it takes time.

“They must first win the championship and they reach the last 16 of the Champions League to achieve the same level of the big clubs.

“Criticism is part of football. Sometimes it is more than unfair, I think. [In regards to] Nasri, we must leave him alone. We must give him our trust. I think he can still give good things to the Bleus. Because he has the ability.

“Captain of the French team? That’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m ready. But I do not make the call, but if the coach asked me, I’d say yes.”

Messi and Ronaldo are welcome to join Levante jokes coach Martinez

Levante head coach Juan Ignacio Martinez has spoken positively about Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi ahead of the hotly-contested Ballon d’Or vote.

The 48-year-old believes both players are incredible and jokingly invited the pair to play for the Granotes in future.

“I cannot vote, but I think those two players are sensational, two great players,” Martinez told reporters. “They are both welcome to come here!”

On a more serious note, Martinez has told his side to forget last year’s shock 1-0 win over Real Madrid when Jose Mourinho’s side visit the Ciutat de Valencia this weekend.

He said: “They are different games and now Madrid are much more grounded. It was the first time we beat them at home in a 100-odd years of our history.

“There were a couple of controversial moments, but Mourinho congratulated us and praised us [for the performance].

“Madrid will give us very few chances. They are not dependent on a number of players because they have a big squad.”

Sunday’s game kicks off at 20:30 CET.

Striking dilemmas: Real Madrid & Barcelona in need of a forward fix

ANALYSIS
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

It can be tough at the top. Problems come in all shapes and sizes for sides like Barcelona and Real Madrid; troubled recently in defence, Spain’s biggest two teams are now facing new issues – this time in attack.

Barcelona suffered surprise defeat at Celtic on Wednesday night, when Lionel Messi scored a late consolation but saw his strike pale into insignificance in a 2-1 loss as the Catalans went home empty-handed for only the second time this season.

Messi’s heated exchange with substitute David Villa late in the game showed the frustration felt on the night by Tito Vilanova’s team, whose only previous defeat this term had come in the Spanish Supercopa second-leg against Real Madrid.

It was Messi and Villa’s second spat in public this season, after the two argued on the pitch in the laboured home win against Granada back in September. However, press reports of a rift appear far-fetched. The real frustration, it seems, is that goals have been few and far between from the club’s other forwards in 2012-13.

Messi has 18 in all competitions this season already and Villa, who is being eased back into action after he was seriously injured last December, has netted six so far in just 432 minutes. The side’s other forwards, however, have contributed just five goals in a combined 2,544 minutes, which is putting extra pressure on Messi and – when he is on the pitch – Villa.

Vilanova has shown his faith in Pedro this term and although the Tenerife-born winger has looked much more consistent than in 2011-12, he has been unable to show it in front of goal, with just two strikes so far. Cristian Tello also has two, albeit in just 467 minutes, while Alexis Sanchez has netted just once in almost double the time, in what has been a hugely disappointing start to the campaign for the Chilean.

With Isaac Cuenca still sidelined, Vilanova has few alternatives, but can count on either Andres Iniesta or Cesc Fabregas further forward if needed.

In some games, the Catalans may be better off using Villa in the centre and reverting Messi to his former role on the right. In 2008-09, still the best Barca side in memory, the goals were spread out fairly evenly among Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry. Not now.

Messi scored an incredible 73 goals last season but, on the rare occasion he is unable to deliver, Barcelona have a problem – and that’s something Vilanova must think about over the next few weeks, starting at Mallorca on Sunday night.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, are missing both Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema for Sunday’s tough trip to Levante, one of only two Liga fixtures Jose Mourinho’s men lost in 2011-12.

Benzema vented his frustration at a lack of minutes in a recent interview with L’Equipe but was told to get on with the job in hand by Mourinho, who has shared the playing time fairly evenly between the Frenchman and Higuain this term.

With the Argentine out, Benzema has his opportunity to stake a claim for more minutes, although not on Sunday as he, too, misses the trip to the Valencia-based opposition through injury.

Mourinho also faces a dilemma because neither of his two strikers have completely convinced in 2012-13. The healthy competition from last term has been lost somewhat as the two men have blown hot and cold in the current campaign.

The Portuguese revealed on Saturday that Ronaldo will start as the main striker against Levante, with the 27-year-old set to drop deep in a similar role to Messi’s at Barcelona – albeit within a very different system.

Ronaldo, like Messi, has 18 goals this season, although Higuain and Benzema have chipped in with eight and five respectively.

Being able to call on Cristiano is a wonderful option for any coach, but Mourinho will want more from his two strikers as the season wears on, especially as Benzema has said he wants to end his career at Madrid and Higuain is close to agreeing a new long-term deal with the capital club.

This weekend, with winnable matches for both Barca and Madrid, it is likely to be all about Messi and Ronaldo again. The trouble is, though, it cannot always be like that. Food for thought, then, for both Vilanova and Mourinho.

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'I sit on the bench for 90 minutes of every game' – Mourinho selection policy criticism

Jose Mourinho dismissed criticism of his selection policy ahead of Real Madrid’s game at Levante.

The 49-year-old Portuguese coach refused to respond to several questions in los Blancos’ pre-match press conference, particularly those surrounding how he chooses who to play.

Mourinho was especially curt when questioned about Karim Benzema’s public complaints about his lack of playing time this season.

“I spend ninety minutes each game on the bench,” he said bluntly in response.

The ex-Chelsea manager also appeared irritated when asked about Kaka’s lack of involvement this campaign.

“He [Kaka] helps the team when he’s on the pitch,” Mourinho continued. “If he was a left-back he would have already played a lot of games, but he’s a No.10.

“When we used him more you were all asking for Ozil. Now that Ozil plays because he works hard and plays well, you ask for Kaka.”

Real Madrid travel to face Levante on Sunday, an away fixture they have failed to win in the past two league visits.

Mourinho confirms Ronaldo striking role

Jose Mourinho has confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo will start as a striker for Real Madrid’s clash against Levante at Ciutat de Valencia.

Both Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain have been suffering from hamstring problems, and the Portuguese coach will shift his countryman from the wing.

“At Levante, Cristiano will play as the No.9. We will play with Di Mario, Cristiano and Callejon in attack,” he told reporters.

Elsewhere, Marcelo is still missing with a broken foot, while Fabio Coentrao has been missing with an injury sustained on international duty, and Mourinho is still unsure who he will pick at left-back.

“I do not know who will play on the left. I do not know if I can count on Coentrao or [Alvaro] Arbeloa. Whether they play or are on the bench depends on how both players feel and train.”

Madrid have had a poor record of late against Levante, and the 49-year-old went on to state that his side are fully aware of the task at hand.

“You have to play against every team. Sometimes you play teams with different characteristics. On the one hand, you have to impose your football, and if you don’t, you have to adapt,” he said.

“Winning [there] is not only difficult for us. If it were an easy stadium for others and difficult for Madrid, it would be something else. It is difficult for everyone. Their style gets results, so no one should criticise them.”

Finally, Mourinho responded to Benzema’s recent pleas for more playing time by stating: “I spend every match on the bench.”