MADRID (Reuters) – Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari has praised Karim Benzema for playing through the pain of a fractured finger and easing the team’s shortage of forwards in recent weeks.
Benzema opted against undergoing surgery to treat the injury he sustained against Real Betis on Jan. 13 and went on to play in last week’s crucial 2-0 win over Sevilla in La Liga while wearing a bandage on his finger.
He also started and scored in Thursday’s 4-2 win over Girona in the Copa del Rey.
The French forward has struggled to raise his goal count since Cristiano Ronaldo departed for Juventus and he has only scored seven times in the league this season, but Solari emphasised his other qualities.
“He has had many highs and lows in his career, but right now he is in excellent form,” Solari told a news conference ahead of Sunday’s visit to Espanyol in La Liga.
“He’s generous, he has a great understanding of the game and makes the players around him better. He’s generous in his efforts, he’s playing almost every game and right now he is playing with pain. He’s generous in every sense, he’s one of the best players in his position.”
Madrid have experienced a sharp improvement in performances in recent weeks after a poor start to the new year.
Solari urged his side to repeat their strong displays at home to Sevilla and Girona when they take on Espanyol, at a ground where Madrid usually do well but where they were beaten 1-0 last year.
“We need to do exactly what we did in the last two games, to show maximum concentration from the first second, we need to show all the energy and intensity that we did in those games,” added Solari, whose Madrid side are fourth in the standings on 36 points, 10 behind La Liga leaders Barcelona.
Madrid have been boosted by the return of forwards Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale from injury although there is no guarantee either will play against Espanyol, given the outstanding form of Brazilian Vinicius Jr, who has spearheaded the European champions’ revival.
“He is very young but he has adapted to the team so quickly,” Solari said of the 18-year-old.
“His team mates have welcomed him with open arms and he has been able to show his talent, but we have to keep helping him.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)