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Benzema fit to play for Real in Madrid derby

18 November 2016, 21:35

BARCELONA — Real Madrid will be able to count on Karim Benzema for the Madrid derby at Atletico on Saturday.

Coach Zinedine Zidane picked the France striker for the Spanish league match at Vicente Calderon Stadium, but he didn't reveal if he will start Benzema or place him in the reserves.

"He is better, and if he is on the squad then he can play," Zidane said on Friday.

Benzema was in doubt because of a lingering hip problem. He has five goals in 13 appearances this season.

While forwards Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are also ready to play, Zidane will be without his other pure striker Alvaro Morata, who injured a hamstring while playing for Spain over the international break.

Atletico, meanwhile, is hoping star forward Antoine Griezmann will be fit after hurting his left foot while playing for France.

"He trained normally yesterday," Atletico manager Diego Simeone said about Griezmann. "He is trying very hard to be ready for the match. I hope he trains well in the last practice session and can make our squad."

Griezmann has scored eight goals for Atletico this season and, if fit, should join Yannick Carrasco and Kevin Gameiro in attack.

Once the capital's dominant team, Madrid hasn't beaten Atletico in six consecutive league derbies, although it has topped its cross-town rival in two Champions League finals during that stretch.

Also read: Benzema accuses Deschamps of bowing to racist pressure

Zidane gave credit to Simeone for revamping Atletico since his arrival midway through the 2011-12 season.

"Atletico gets better year after year," Zidane said. "It has a coach that has changed so many things. He is doing a phenomenal job. Everybody always says Atletico defends well, but it is so much more than that."

Madrid is also in fine form.

Madrid's defeat to Atletico last February marked the start of a remarkable run for Zidane's side, which hasn't lost in the league since — a run of 23 matches.

Besides Benzema, Madrid will also have back Sergio Ramos and Luca Modric after both recovered from knee problems, although Modric will be without fellow midfielders Toni Kroos and Casemiro due to injuries.

Atletico has most of its midfielders, led by playmaker Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion, to choose from.

Madrid leads the league and has a six-point advantage over fourth-place Atletico.

But Simeone said that his team's main source of inspiration is the chance to win what will likely be the last derby played at the Vicente Calderon before Atletico moves to its new stadium.

"What we are focusing on is managing our emotions for what will be the last derby against our eternal rival in our home," Simeone said. "Being nine, six or three points behind is not our concern right now. I know our fans will be like they always are. We need our '12th player' and I don't need to tell them that."

Defending champion Barcelona, which hosts Malaga on Saturday, is in second place two points adrift of Madrid.

For the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page.

- AP


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