Benzema has silenced critics; Atléti face tough trip – LaLigaTV column


s the days start getting longer, that can only mean one thing – it’s results season. It’s not about good performances anymore, it’s about getting wins.

Whether you’re fighting to survive or dreaming of the title, it’s all about getting three points and achieving your objectives for the season. You stop caring about playing good football. Now is the crucial time where nothing else matters but the run-in.

There are some serious conversations going on in dressing rooms up and down the country – ‘we’re playing for our lives’… ‘do it for your families’ – and while it may sound dramatic, every player is aware of how much is riding on these next 10 games. Not only the emotions of the fans, but also the financial implications for both the club and players – it could be the difference between a better contract, or not, come the end of the season.

It goes without saying the next 10 games will be crucial in Atlético Madrid’s bid for the title: the players lack some experience, but the international break will have helped them. They were suffering with mental fatigue before and this gap has helped Atlético recharge the batteries at a time they needed it most.

Kieran Trippier’s return to the side has been vital. He is one of Atlético’s most important players in this system, perfectly suited to the wing-back role and has allowed Marcos Llorente to feature in midfield again.

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I played against Trippier when he was at Burnley and he has always been technically gifted. Defensively, through his career, he’s had to add diligence and tactical awareness to his game, and this continues to improve under Simeone.

I’ve been very impressed by how quickly he has adapted to the culture, learned the language and embraced a new style of football – he’s now a more complete player in every respect.

Atlético will need Trippier and co. on top of their game this weekend as Sevilla away is never easy. Julen Lopetegui always wants to impress and to prove people wrong – he wants to show how good he is after what happened with Real Madrid and the Spanish national team.

This season, Lopetegui’s side have not played the free-flowing football we expect from his teams; they’re very rigid in midfield and lacking creativity. Simeone’s side are also well drilled with defensive stability key to their success. Like lots of games towards the end of the season I expect this to be tense, tight and decided by a small detail.

LaLiga returns with a scintillating game on Friday night, live on FreeSports and LaLigaTV, between Levante and Huesca, two of the league’s most attacking sides.

I’ve waxed lyrical about Levante on many occasions this season, and they come into the run-in with neither the threat of relegation nor hope of European football, but they’ll be fighting to finish above their city rivals Valencia. I expect them to play in their usual way, which should allow for an exciting game.

Throughout the season, Huesca have also been a free-flowing attacking side but without as much quality as Levante. However, last time out they looked nervous in their 0-0 stalemate with Osasuna. I sensed there were players afraid to lose, when they need to win to stay up.

I am not sure what to expect from this game. If Huesca show fight and desire to stay up, and play to win instead of playing not to lose, they have shown the potential to survive. If they lose the jitters they had against Osasuna, this could be a great match.

Relegation is one of the biggest emotional rollercoasters in football, if you manage to stay up it’s the best feeling ever but if you go down – I can’t even describe it – it’s the worst.

As I said before, at this point of the season performances don’t matter, it is all about getting results and winning. And that’s music to Real Madrid’s ears, as they’re excellent at one-off fixtures – just look at ElClasico and positive results from both Madrid derbies.

They haven’t put in great performances this season but last time out against Celta they looked excellent. I expect them to keep winning matches even if their performances aren’t fantastic.

Karim Benzema is a generational striker, and he is one of the best in the world as far as I am concerned. Since Cristiano Ronaldo left, Benzema has improved his game and become the star striker. He has faced a lot of criticism in his 12 years at the club, but he consistently silences his doubters and helps Madrid win trophies and no doubt he’ll have an impact in their run-in.

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Eibar have only had two consistently good performers this season, Kike and Bryan Gil. They are the only players that win points for the club. I am starting to worry for them. I think they have got enough about them to survive, but it is crunch time and they need to start getting results as soon as possible.

Coming up against Eibar I really can’t see Madrid dropping points. The last time these two sides met was probably Real Madrid’s best performance this season. Eibar press really high but Real Madrid bypassed it easily with Luka Modrić putting on a masterclass in that match – if that repeats itself, it’ll only go one way.

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