Former Man City and Aston Villa defender and now pundit Joleon Lescott has admitted that Karim Benzema’s availability for Real Madrid’s trip to Chelsea in the Champions League makes the tie more difficult for Thomas Tuchel.
The Frenchmen comes into this Champions League quarter-final full of confidence after netting twice at the weekend to help Los Blancos maintain their lead at the top of the La Liga standings with their fortuitous 2-1 win over Celta Vigo. Those two goals mean that the 34-year-old veteran, who is still up there as one of the best strikers in Europe, has a total of 47 goal contributions in all competitions this term. A tally that most of the Blues attack could only dream of. No wonder manager Thomas Tuchel singled out the former Les Bleus international as one of four very ‘impressive’ players that his side need to be aware of.
Tuchel said in his press conference on Tuesday afternoon: “You love these questions, no? From your colleague, I got the question the other way around – he asked me who do I want not to play! It’s more or less the same question. So, instead of being boring and refusing to give one particular name, I gave all of the praise to Karim Benzema. Two years ago I think he was one of the most underrated players in world football, and maybe not any more. He absolutely deserves everything that has happened to him, he has been how many years as the number nine for Real Madrid, and that speaks for itself. And how he carries responsibility, in the last stage for them. What a key part he plays for them as a captain now, it’s very impressive. You can see what can happen to a team in his absence, from the Clasico.
“He’s for sure a standout player and personality. But right now that’s also very unfair to guys like Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and many more, this team is very successful because of huge, huge personalities.” Benzema scored in the home leg in the 1-1 draw between the two sides in the semi-final last term and if it weren’t for spectacular heroics from world-class shot stopper Edouard Mendy, would have netted an invaluable header in what turned out to be a crushing 2-0 defeat in the second leg at Stamford Bridge.
No wonder Lescott agreed with Tuchel’s praise and added that the Frenchmen’s presence makes this tie a ‘difficult’ one for the current holders but the Brummie did still back the Blues to progress to the semi-final for consecutive seasons.
“Interesting. Benzema back it’s a difficult game for Chelsea. I just think their system, they’re confident – I know the weekend wasn’t great – but the drama around the club has galvanised the group and looks like they can go all the way again,” he summed up when looking ahead to Wednesday’s fixture during BT Sport’s pre-match build-up of the Man City Atletico Madrid Champions League tie.