Rafa Benitez seemed like the only choice to replace Carlo Ancelotti after Real Madrid had taken the decision to sack the Italian. Benitez was going to be out of work after deciding to leave Napoli. His knowledge of Spanish football – from his time at Madrid as a player and as a manager at Valencia – was expected to give him a major advantage straightaway. Yet, inconsistent form in pre-season and an opening day draw with Sporting Gijon has already raised red flags about Benitez. The 53-year-old has been criticised amongst the media for trying to make Madrid more defensive in their approach.
Speaking ahead of the game against Real Betis, the former Liverpool and Chelsea boss was left perplexed with the amount of criticism that has come his way after just one game. Benitez would have been aware of the immensely political scenario at Madrid. He will also be aware that managers – even those who have experienced success – just do not last long. Benitez said:
“Generating these debates after every match surprises me. We drew 0-0 and people talk about a defensive team.
“Which team had the most shots last weekend? It was Real Madrid. If having more shots than your opponent is being defensive then I am lost.
“A draw is not defensive. It’s a match without the ability to hit the target.”
The Spaniard has always been about being strong defensively and then building from the front. Yet, he has also managed teams that have been excellent to watch. The Liverpool team of 2009, with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard playing up front, produced some of the best displays of attacking football in the last decade. Armed with an arsenal of world class players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and Benzema, it may not be long before Madrid strike the perfect combination; the crucial factor, however, is that it should arrive rather soon in order to stay in the title race.
Madrid had numerous chances against Sporting Gijon and were unlucky not to win the game. The team will be immensely boosted by the return of Karim Benzema, who was unavailable against Sporting Gijon. Benitez has set a target of more than 20 league goals for the French international, who has been heavily linked with Arsenal. However, he recently confirmed his intentions to stay at the Santiago Bernabeu. One of the world’s most expensive players, James Rodriguez, was not part of the starting line-up against Sporting Gijon. Benitez explained the decision by saying:
“[Copa America participation] That’s all there is to it. Beyond that, there is a technical decision. There are people who want debates. I have a lot of confidence in James.”
It remains to be seen if the return of Benzema will further provide more selection headaches for Benitez. Title rivals Barcelona are at home to Malaga.