Karim Benzema return motivates Real Madrid ahead of Barcelona showdown

Carlo Ancelotti said Karim Benzema is “back” and ready to deliver for a Real Madrid team who are still hungry for trophies ahead of the Spanish Supercopa Clasico final with Barcelona on Sunday at 2 pm ET (stream live on ESPN+ in the US)

Benzema has struggled with persistent hamstring problems in an injury-hit season so far — being sent home from France’s World Cup squad before the tournament began — but has scored four goals in his last three games, including a penalty in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Valencia in Saudi Arabia.

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The Supercopa is the second of a possible six trophies Madrid are chasing this campaign after they won the UEFA Super Cup in August, with the Club World Cup, Copa del Rey, LaLiga and the Champions League all up for grabs.

“Benzema is back,” coach Ancelotti said in a news conference on Saturday. “That gives us a lot of confidence, for the next few games and for this second half of the season. He looks motivated and he’s training well.

“He’s a very important player for us. I think the team dealt well with his absence in the first half [of the season] and he’ll help us in this second half.”

Benzema’s 2021-22 season — with his 27 goals in LaLiga and 15 in the Champions League firing Madrid to the Double — saw him win the Ballon d’Or in October. Ancelotti denied that last season’s successes had left the team with a lack of hunger for more trophies.

“It’s not true,” he said. “We’re talking about players who didn’t just win last year. They’re players who’ve been winning since 2013 and they’re still winning. Their stomachs have never got full and they never will… We’re at a very demanding club. It doesn’t allow you to think that your stomach is full.”

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez agreed Madrid’s recent experience in finals gives them the advantage, but called on his side to lean on a desire to end a 21-month wait for silverware to help them win their first trophy since he replaced Ronald Koeman in 2021.

“Madrid are very strong and psychologically they have a slight advantage because they have played more finals in recent years and they have more experience,” Xavi said.

“We have a lot of young players that have not won trophies with Barca, so we have to view this as a massive opportunity and use that as an advantage. We have to show the hunger we have to win trophies because it’s been a while now .

“At Barca, winning is non-negotiable. We are here to win trophies, that is the objective. We are 90 or 120 minutes from winning a title and we’re going to give our all to do that.”

Barca lead Madrid by three points at the top of LaLiga after 16 games but they were beaten 3-1 when the sides met at the Santiago Bernabeu in October, their only defeat in the league this season.

Xavi — whose Barca side needed penalties to beat Real Betis in Thursday’s semifinal — says that Clasico will not serve as a precedent going into the final because his team will be at full strength this time.

“The big difference is we have everyone available,” he added. “We will try to show what we are about, control their transitions and disarm them at the back, where they are very strong.

“The first objective was to reach the final and it was not easy. Now, the objective is to take the trophy back to Barcelona. It’s the pressure that comes with being at a big club, but the pressure is welcome.”

The Barca boss also confirmed Memphis Depay would only be allowed to leave this month if a replacement is found. ESPN have reported Atletico Madrid’s interest in the forward.

“I don’t want anyone to leave, but if someone asks to, we will have to replace them first,” Xavi said.

Meanwhile, ahead of Sunday’s game, Cristiano Ronaldo visited his former Madrid teammates during their training session at Al Nassr’s training ground on Friday following his high-profile move to the Saudi club last month.

“I saw Ronaldo yesterday,” Ancelotti added. “He’s happy, really motivated. He likes the place, the country [Saudi Arabia]. I think he made the right decision.”

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