Madrid’s Benzema doubtful for Villarreal ahead of PSG clash

That Champions League round-of-16 tie in Paris on Tuesday will pit Madrid against the team of former nemesis Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé, the player many in Spain hope will become Madrid's next star.

Benzema trained individually on Wednesday, working out in the team’s gym and running on the training pitch.   -  REUTERS

Real Madrid is hoping Karim Benzema will be fit to play in next week’s highly anticipated clash with Paris Saint-Germain.

That Champions League round-of-16 tie in Paris on Tuesday will pit Madrid against the team of former nemesis Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé, the player many in Spain hope will become Madrid's next star.

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But, first, Madrid will have to likely miss Benzema’s goals for one more match, when the Spanish league leader visits the Villarreal of Unai Emery on Saturday.

Benzema trained individually on Wednesday, working out in the team’s gym and running on the training pitch.

Madrid has struggled to score since Benzema injured his left hamstring on Jan. 23 in a league match against Elche. Without his team-high 24 goals in 28 appearances, Madrid drew with Elche 2-2, was eliminated from the Copa del Rey in a 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao, and eked out a 1-0 win over Granada.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti played Marco Asensio and Isco Alarcón, both attacking midfielders, up front against Granada. That paid off when Asensio netted the winner. But the decision also appeared to indicate that Ancelotti has little faith in the team’s other pure striker, rarely used reserve Luka Jovic.

Madrid will get winger Vinícius Júnior back for Villarreal after he served a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards. The Brazilian's 12 goals are second to Benzema's 17 for the entire league.

Villarreal enters the round in sixth place, but only three points from Barcelona in fourth and the final Champions League spot.

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Villarreal will also be without its top striker after Gerard Moreno injured a right leg muscle. Arnaut Danjuma, who has scored nine times this season, could start as striker.

“We don’t care, or care very little, if Madrid is thinking more in the Champions League. They have their injury issues, as do we,” Villarreal goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli said. “The leader is coming, the strongest team so far this season, a rival that is going to demand the most of us, and we are eager to play our best.”

Giovani Lo Celso made his debut for Villarreal after his loan from Tottenham as a late substitute in the last round’s 2-0 win over Real Betis.

ELSEWHERE

Second-placed Sevilla hosts an improved Elche on Friday after drawing at Osasuna 0-0 last week let Madrid open a six-point gap at the top of the table.

Betis, a full 13 points off Madrid’s pace in third, visits last-placed Levante on Sunday, while Barcelona has a derby at Espanyol.

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