MADRID (AP) — Youth and experience. Speed and calmness. And lots of goals.
The 22-year-old Vinícius Júnior and veteran Karim Benzema are proving to be ideal attacking partners for Real Madrid, teaming up to perfection to keep the European champion thriving.
The duo came up big again in Madrid’s stunning recovery in the Champions League on Tuesday, scoring two goals each in the 5-2 come-from-behind win at Liverpool in the first leg of the round of 16.
They both also had an assist — for each other — as Madrid rallied from two goals down to take a commanding lead into the second leg at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
Vinícius and Benzema have combined for 17 goals and eight assists for Madrid this year alone. For the season, their total number of goals is 36 — 18 each — and they have 14 assists overall.
They have complemented each other nicely up front, always knowing how to find each other with quick passes or long through balls to set up scoring opportunities.
Vinícius contributes mostly with his great runs and nifty moves past defenders, while the 35-year-old Benzema adds his smart touches and accurate finishes.
They thrived together last season as well, when Benzema was crowned the best player in the world. This time, it’s Vinícius taking the leading role in Madrid’s attack.
“Vinicius right now in my opinion is the most decisive player in world football, the man who can make the biggest difference,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said.
Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp agreed that Vinícius is one of the best players in the world at the moment, and said that “Benzema is not bad” either. The coach also praised Rodrygo, the other Madrid forward who has often teamed up effectively with Vinícius and Benzema.
Benzema blamed injuries for not being able to play even better and match his impressive numbers from last season.
“I’ve not played much so far, but the important thing is that I’m contributing to the team with goals and assists,” he said. “I’m coming off the back of a season where I played a lot of games. I was injured after the World Cup and it’s difficult to reach the top level. But I’m feeling gradually better. Today I put in a good performance and I’m going to keep going.”
Vinícius has been succeeding despite dealing with racist insults and hate attacks from opposing fans since the beginning of the season.
He scored twice in the first half to bring Madrid back into Tuesday’s game.
“Vini’s performance lifted us,” Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde said.
Benzema’s goals came in the second half, and defender Éder Militão also scored for Madrid.
Ancelotti said he needed to make changes to the formation after the poor start, when Liverpool took advantage of Madrid’s vulnerability on the left flank.
“I asked Luka (Modric) to press Fabinho, but that left us unguarded on the left side,” Ancelotti said. “In the second half I put Valverde there and we could fix it.”
The second leg against Liverpool is on March 15.
Second-place Madrid, whch trails Barcelona by eight points, plays city rival Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league on Saturday.
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