Madrid, Mar 6 (efe-epa).- Real Madrid got a welcome boost ahead of their clash against cross-town rivals and La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid with the return of Karim Benzema, coach Zinedine Zidane said Saturday.
Real Madrid’s top scorer this seasons has been on the sidelines since late February when he sustained a left leg injury. He has missed three games, including his team’s 1-0 away Champions League win over Atalanta.
Having barely snatched a last minute 1-1 draw against Real Sociedad in their mid-week game, Real Madrid will hope the return of Benzema – who scored 12 league goals so far – will strengthen their attack against Atletico, who have once again had one of the league’s stingiest defenses.
“Karim will be with us. We know who he is, not only in terms of goals. He is an important player for us as a striker and in our new play system especially when we have the ball,” Zidane said during a press conference on the eve of the derby.
He did not reveal whether Benzema would start the game as third-placed Real Madrid try to cut Atletico’s five-point lead.
“At the end, we are not going to take a risk. If there is any doubt, I do not like to (play him) because the injury could worsen and have him on the sidelines for longer (…) The players who are going to play must always be one hundred percent,” he added.
In the opposing dugout on Sunday will be Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone, who is not getting carried away with the fact that his team leads Barcelona and Real Madrid by 5 points, with a match in hand.
“There is no rush. The championship is very long, tough and difficult. There are very good teams, no team plays poorly in the Spanish league. We have to follow a path that we obviously know,” Simeone said ahead of the game.
“El Cholo” has a full squad to choose from, with the exceptions of midfielder Héctor Herrera, who misses out for personal reasons, and defender José María Giménez, who has a muscular injury.
Heading into Sunday’s derby, Real Madrid have won three out of the last eight league clashes against Atletico; they had to settle for a point apiece in the other five games.
Real Madrid beat Atletico 2-0 in their first league meeting this season on 12 December. EFE-EPA