Karim Benzema has declared his determination to win the Ballon d'Or after taking centre stage at Real Madrid since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure.

The France striker has been Madrid's attacking spearhead and has taken over the captaincy following the exit of Sergio Ramos, reflecting his standing with the Spanish giants.

With three LaLiga titles and four Champions League wins in 12 years, Benzema has accrued plenty of silverware while with Los Blancos.

Now, individual acclaim is regularly coming his way, with Benzema stepping out of Ronaldo's long shadow and becoming the talisman.

He has topped the 20-goal mark in LaLiga in the last three seasons and has nine strikes in eight games so far this term in the Spanish top flight, with Madrid top of the table.

With Lionel Messi having moved on to Paris Saint-Germain, Benzema has a major claim to be the star turn in LaLiga, and a first Pichichi trophy, which goes to the league's top scorer, is an obvious target.

Ahead of his 34th birthday in December, Benzema has perhaps never been a more credible contender for the Ballon d'Or, although the likes of Messi, Jorginho and Robert Lewandowski might deny him this time around. They, along with Benzema, were selected on a shortlist on Friday.

"Since I was a kid, it was always a dream of mine to win the Ballon d'Or... it's the dream for most players," Benzema told AS.

"It's true that football is a team game but when you help the side to win, when you're instrumental in triumphs, when you score winning goals, it's natural for any player to aspire to win the Ballon d'Or.

"Of course, I'll work as hard as I can to win that trophy and I hope, someday, fulfil the dream I had when I was a young boy."

 

Carlo Ancelotti, in the early weeks of his second spell as Madrid head coach, spoke glowingly of Benzema in August, saying: "He is a very complete player. Now he is more complete than five years ago."

Benzema feels personal recognition has been hard earned during his time in Spain.

"It's possible that it has been a struggle at times but the most important thing is that people are enjoying my style of play, that's something that makes me proud and extremely happy," Benzema added.

Benzema was an effective foil to Ronaldo as he went on to become Madrid's all-time record scorer, but the plaudits mainly went to the Portuguese, who departed for Juventus in 2018.

Last season, Benzema's 23 league goals came at a rate of one every 126.13 minutes, which he has only beaten twice in a full season at Madrid. They also came from an expected goals total of 18.81, indicating he is excelling in taking the chances that come his way.

His shot conversion rate so far in 2021-22 is 26.47 per cent, higher than he has achieved across any full LaLiga campaign since arriving in 2009 from Lyon.

He described his Madrid role as that of "a big brother figure", helping along the likes of Vinicius Jr.

It remains to be seen whether Benzema is joined at Madrid by his France team-mate Kylian Mbappe, who was targeted by Los Blancos during the last transfer window.

Mbappe is in the final year of his Paris Saint-Germain contract and could move to Madrid for free next year. Benzema has said it is "a question of time", convinced Mbappe will at some stage in his career pull on the famous white shirt.

Speaking about the 22-year-old striker, who he has played alongside for France, Benzema said: "Mbappe is an amazing talent with his brand of football and more so taking into consideration his age. He's also a really great guy and I love playing alongside him."

Karim Benzema has revealed he asked Kylian Mbappe to take France's penalty against Belgium in Thursday's Nations League semi-final so his team-mate could banish the memories of missing from the spot at Euro 2020.

Mbappe missed the crucial kick in France's shoot-out defeat to Switzerland in June's Euro 2020 last-16 tie as Les Blues suffered a shock early exit from a tournament they were deemed favourites to win.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward made no mistake from 12 yards against Belgium, though, thumping the ball into the top-right corner to level things up before Theo Hernandez's late winner set up a showdown with Spain in Sunday's final.

Benzema started France's comeback from two goals down and the Real Madrid striker was more than happy to let Mbappe take the penalty at the Allianz Stadium.

"We are both players who take penalties," he told M6. "I wanted him to take this one so I gave him the ball. I really wanted him to score. 

"After what happened at the Euros, it's been erased. On the pitch I try to make my team-mates better every time I play."

Benzema was named on the 30-man shortlist for the 2021 Ballon d'Or award on Friday after an impressive year that saw him impress for Madrid and make a surprise international comeback with France.

And fellow France forward Antoine Griezmann hailed his team-mate for the form he has shown for club and country.

"He gets the ball and puts it in the net," Griezmann told M6. "I tell him, 'when you play like that, you're just too strong for others'.

"It's awesome to watch him play, to see Karim at this level. I hope he can continue this way for Sunday's final."

Real Madrid suffered a dismal end to a humiliating week as they were stunned 2-1 by Espanyol, missing out on the chance to restore a three-point lead at the top of LaLiga.

Madrid were the victims of one of the greatest shocks in Champions League history in midweek as they were incredibly beaten 2-1 by Moldovan debutants Sheriff at the Santiago Bernabeu.

And they now only lead LaLiga on goal difference after a limp performance at RCDE Stadium, where Espanyol took a 2-0 lead through goals from Raul de Tomas and Aleix Vidal.

Karim Benzema was in inspired form, and he gave Madrid hope in the 71st minute, yet the visitors were again left to reflect on a humbling despite their star forward's best efforts.

Save for a couple of tame shots from Benzema, Madrid struggled to create chances early on despite dominating possession, and they were punished against the run of play as De Tomas stole in at the near post to turn home Adrian Embarba's low right-wing cross.

Espanyol continued in the ascendancy without adding to their lead in the first half and were fortunate not to be pegged back four minutes into the second as Eder Militao's header drifted wide.

But Madrid's attacking threat remained largely conspicuous by its absence and Espanyol doubled their advantage when former Barcelona man Vidal was allowed to surge into open space from midfield, skip past Nacho and side-foot beyond Thibaut Courtois.

The hosts should have made it 3-0 as Madrid were caught cold on the counter, only for Sergi Darder to make a horrible mess of his finish with only Courtois to beat.

Benzema was then rightly denied by the offside flag but, after Darder stung Courtois' palms at the other end, the France international gave Madrid a chance with a superb individual effort, evading several challenges on the edge of the box before bending a pinpoint strike inside the right-hand post.

And Benzema looked to have teed Eden Hazard up for a spectacular leveller, but the offside flag was again correctly raised as Espanyol held on to deal Madrid an early blow in the title race. 

Carlo Ancelotti said he hoped Kylian Mbappe "enjoys himself" at Real Madrid after Karim Benzema predicted the Paris Saint-Germain star would move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

In an interview with L'Equipe, Benzema claimed it was a matter of time until his international team-mate signs for Los Blancos.

Madrid reportedly saw three bids rejected by PSG for the France star during the transfer window, the last one said to be worth €200million.

Yet with Mbappe's contract expiring at the end of the season and no sign of an extension, the 22-year-old will be free to speak with foreign clubs over a possible free transfer from January onwards.

When asked about Benzema's comments ahead of Madrid's LaLiga clash with Espanyol, Ancelotti replied: "I hope Mbappe enjoys himself because Madrid are the biggest club in the world!"

Madrid's trip to Barcelona comes in the week when they were stunned by Champions League debutants Sheriff 2-1 at home.

Having won five matches in a row, Madrid are now without a victory in their previous two, having been held 0-0 at home by Villarreal in their most recent league match.

Ancelotti has been losing sleep over those recent results but is not concerned by recent criticism of his side or his methods.

 

"The game against Sheriff hurt our pride. We'll react and give everything tomorrow, as we did against Sheriff," Ancelotti said.

"It's true we committed small mistakes, weren't precise enough in finishing, in passing, in their few chances.

"It affected me physically because I don't sleep, and I think about what happened. When you don't win, you don't sleep.

"I accept it [criticism], whether it's fair or unfair, you have to accept it. It's normal. I have a fantastic position, and I'm lucky to be here, and you have to accept that they can criticise you.

"We need to have more balance and really assess what's happening to us. We have struggled for goals in our last two games and we need to address that in our next game. I don't think that it’s a case of this being a tough time, but it is certainly tougher than it was before, but we have to solve it by playing with balance and energy."

This weekend also sees a clash between champions Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, a game Ancelotti plans to watch as he expects both to be their main title rivals this term.

"We're going to fight with those two until the end. Atleti are maybe better coming into it," he said.

"I'm going to watch because they're two big teams, but if we do what we need to do, we're going to fight for titles."

Karim Benzema has no doubt Kylian Mbappe will play for Real Madrid and says he enjoys being part of a team trying to redevelop under Carlo Ancelotti.

Madrid reportedly saw three bids rejected by Paris Saint-Germain for the France star during the transfer window, the last one said to be worth €200million.

Yet with Mbappe's contract expiring at the end of the season and no sign of an extension, the 22-year-old will be free to speak with foreign clubs over a possible free transfer from January onwards.

France team-mate Benzema says it is just a matter of time until Mbappe becomes a Madrid player, telling L'Equipe: "He said it himself. He wants something more. He will play at Real Madrid one day. I don't know when, but he'll come. It's a question of time."

Benzema believes Madrid are going through a transition under head coach Ancelotti, with established stars such as Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane having left while youngsters including Eduardo Camavinga and Vinicius Junior take on greater prominence in the first team.

"Real Madrid are still the best club in the world," he said. "Reconstruction or not, it's a new football, a new generation, new players. We have to invest in the youngsters so they become great players one day.

"I'm here to help them. I speak a lot with them. I want to improve them."

 

It is Benzema, however, who remains the cornerstone of the side. With eight goals and seven assists in just seven LaLiga games in 2021-22, the striker has more than double the direct goal involvements of any other player in the division.

He has also attempted the most shots (26), while only Sergio Canales has created more chances from open play than Benzema (14).

His form in the past year has led to calls for him to win the Ballon d'Or, the award returning this year after being suspended for 2020, with former Madrid star Luis Figo this week backing the 33-year-old for the prize.

While he cannot deny it is on his mind, Benzema says it is important not to become too focused on personal goals at the expense of helping the team.

"We have to think about it when you have ambition, but it doesn't have to be an obsession that makes you focus on yourself, telling yourself you have to shine individually," he said.

"If you have to win it, it's because of who you are, what you show on the pitch, what you do. For Figo to say I'm one of the candidates is important."

Carlo Ancelotti is taking no enjoyment from bitter rivals Barcelona's ongoing struggles as he backed Real Madrid to continue improving.

Barca have managed just two wins from their opening five LaLiga games of the season and were beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week.

The pressure is mounting on head coach Ronald Koeman following Thursday's stalemate with Cadiz, a result that leaves the Catalan giants down in seventh place.

LaLiga leaders Madrid are already seven points better off than Barca, albeit having played a game more, but Ancelotti is only concerned about his own side's performances.

"I'm not happy if a team has a bad time," he said at Friday's news conference previewing Madrid's home match with Villarreal on Saturday. 

"I focus only on my team. If things don't go well for another team, be it Barca or another, It doesn't make me happy."

 

Madrid's thumping 6-1 win over Real Mallorca on Wednesday moved them two points clear of reigning champions Atletico Madrid at the summit ahead of the visit of Villarreal.

Los Blancos are now unbeaten in 24 league games, which is their longest such run since going 28 without defeat between March 2016 and January 2017.

Marco Asensio scored a hat-trick against his former side in that most recent match, while Karim Benzema claimed a double and provided two assists.

Benzema has now been directly involved in 15 LaLiga goals this season, surpassing former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (14) for the most of any player in the Spanish top flight this century after six games.

The France international turns 34 in December, but Ancelotti feels the prolific striker is only getting better with age.

Asked if Benzema is a contender for the Ballon d'Or award, Ancelotti said: "Because of what he's doing and has done, he has to be on the shortlist.

"But Karim still has time to win it. This will not be his last season. He's like wine – it gets better with time."

Thanks to the form of Benzema, Madrid have scored 21 goals after six LaLiga matches – their best tally at this stage since 1987-88 when registering 26 goals.

The capital club have not been as strong defensively, though, with only seven teams in the division having conceded more goals than the eight Madrid have let in.

With that in mind, Ancelotti believes there is still more to come from his side.

"The players are doing well. I have to be honest, we have focused a lot on the defensive side of our game because that needed the most improvement," he said.

"It's difficult to have a high line if there is no pressure on the ball. If there is no pressure we defend with a low block. 

"We'd like to have a line in the centre of the pitch, but it's not always possible.

"I was satisfied with the Mallorca game compared to our previous match against Valencia, but you quickly have to focus on what can be improved."

Ancelotti also revealed Eden Hazard has "trained well" this week but could not guarantee the forward, who was an unused substitute against Mallorca, would feature this weekend.

Madrid have lost just one of their 21 home LaLiga matches against Villarreal, winning 15 of those and drawing the other five.

Villarreal have therefore lost 71.4 per cent of their away matches against Los Blancos, which is their highest percentage against any opponent with at least two games played on the road.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti hailed Marco Asensio following his hat-trick performance in the 6-1 LaLiga rout of Real Mallorca.

Asensio scored three goals in his first start of the season against former club Mallorca as Madrid returned to the league summit at the Santiago Bernabeau on Wednesday.

After Karim Benzema opened the scoring in the third minute, Asensio took centre stage – the Spaniard scored on either side of Lee Kang-in's goal to give Madrid a 3-1 half-time lead.

Asensio completed his treble 10 minutes into the second half as he became the sixth Spanish player to score a hat-trick for Madrid in LaLiga this century and the first since Alvaro Morata in April 2017. 

Benzema and Isco added gloss to the scoreline, though Ancelotti heaped praise on Asensio post-match.

"I invest my experience in the team and look to give them my all, both in terms of experience and confidence," Ancelotti told reporters, with Madrid now boasting 16 points from their opening six league matches – their best start to a season at this stage since 2013-14, when the Italian boss was last in charge.

"I'm lucky to coach this brave team with a lot of quality and players who learn quickly. Asensio played very well. We knew that he can do a lot of damage and they had a lot of quality between the lines, he's a very good shot taker and he combines very well.

"Asensio has performed very well and during next week he can hopefully score three goals as well. I think this is the position.

"It can be sometimes that if we push with the full-back, defending, he can play more on the outside, but with the ball it's always the same position because he likes it. When he comes inside he has the ball on the left and he is very dangerous there."

Benzema also impressed in the Spanish capital – the in-form France international has been directly involved in 15 goals in LaLiga this season (eight goals and seven assists).

It is the best start in goal involvement of any player after the first six league games of the campaign in the 21st century.

"Karim is doing well," Ancelotti said. "He's scored eight goals and can make you forget that he is playing very well with the team, he gets behind, he contributes to the other players.

"He's a striker who doesn't just score goals. He is complete in every way.

"The day when he needs a rest weell play [Luka] Jovic, who has been doing really well. Jovic is up against really tough competition, but when he's played he's done well.

"He had two chances today and he also played extremely well against Valencia. He'll play when Benzema isn't available."

Marco Asensio scored a hat-trick against former club Real Mallorca to help Real Madrid to a 6-1 win that lifted them back above Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga. 

Mallorca youth product Asensio added to Karim Benzema's early opener and doubled his personal tally after Lee Kang-in had pulled one back for Mallorca in a lively first half to Wednesday's contest. 

Making his first start of the season, Asensio curled in a delightful third before Benzema – who also assisted a couple of goals – and Isco rounded off a thumping victory for Los Blancos at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Madrid have now collected 16 points from their opening six matches, making this their best start to a season at this stage since 2013-14 when Carlo Ancelotti was last in charge. 

Benzema scored a late winner for Madrid in their victory against Valencia last weekend and opened the scoring inside three minutes, nicking the ball off Josep Gaya's toes before racing through and coolly sliding past Manolo Reina. 

Asensio put Madrid on course for a sixth successive home league win against Mallorca 21 minutes later with a close-range finish after Rodrygo's pass was deflected into his path. 

Mallorca took just 71 seconds to respond, however, as Matthew Hoppe picked out Lee and the South Korea international got the better of Thibaut Courtois. 

But Asensio raced through to restore Madrid's two-goal lead and nearly completed his hat-trick moments later with a shot that Martin Valjent blocked on the line. 

Benzema set up Asensio's second goal and thought he had further extended Madrid's lead early in the second half, only for VAR to rule it out for a push on Joan Sastre. 

It did not take much longer for the fourth Madrid goal to arrive, though, as Asensio curled a shot away from Reina into the bottom-left corner for his first Madrid treble. 

Madrid did not let up as Benzema controlled a David Alaba pass with his back and fired a deflected shot past Reina in the 78th minute. 

The Mallorca keeper had to pick the ball out of his net once again six minutes later when Vinicius Junior teed up Isco for a simple finish. 

Karim Benzema bailed out Real Madrid once again, but the French striker insisted the 2-1 win at Valencia was richly deserved, as their unbeaten LaLiga run stretched to 23 games. 

The capital giants had trailed to a fine 66th-minute strike from Hugo Duro that looked set to take Valencia to the top of the table, but instead it is Madrid who sit on that perch with 13 points from five games. 

Captain Benzema teed up Vinicius Junior to slot in an 86th-minute leveller, with the help of a deflection, before roles were reversed for the winner two minutes later. 

A teasing cross from Vinicius was perfect for Benzema to attack, and although the ball went in off his shoulder rather than his forehead, as was the intention, they all count. 

Benzema has now scored in his last six games against Valencia, and Sunday's late show was sweet revenge for the 4-1 thumping that Madrid took at Mestalla last November. 

Coach Carlo Ancelotti described his team's spirit as "indomitable" and Benzema saw it similarly. 

The 33-year-old said: "I think it was a difficult game for us against a great team who are always difficult to beat here. 

"I think we deserved the three points that are important to us. Each game is a final, today was another final and we won. 

"All the players on the pitch and the people who came on at the end of the game to help us, it is a victory for the squad. If I can continue like this, scoring, the most important thing is that they are important for the club." 

Madrid are unbeaten in their last 18 away trips (W12 D6) in LaLiga, which equals their best such run in the competition's history, having previously reached 18 games unbeaten in 1997 (W11 D7) and 2016 (W13 D5). 

Benzema has six goals already this season in LaLiga from an expected goals (xG) total of 2.61, indicating he is having an outstanding run in front of goal. 

He has become the first player since Lionel Messi in 2011-12 to be directly involved in 11 or more goals in the first five games of a LaLiga campaign (six goals, five assists). 

This season has seen Vinicius very much come to the party too, bagging five goals from an xG of 2.3, also outperforming expectations substantially, and now adding a first assist. 

Quoted by AS, Vinicius said the win at Valencia was credit to Madrid's refusal to accept they are ever beaten.

"It is always difficult to play here, but we continue to believe and Madrid never give up," said the 21-year-old Brazilian.

"The main virtue is patience. It was the job of the coach and the whole team. We are doing things like never before. We played well, but things didn't work out and in the end we got the comeback. I am happy with the victory "

It was a victory that delighted Ancelotti, who has yet to lose a competitive game since returning to the club in the close season.

"We have not won because of quality, but because of the indomitable spirit of the team," said Ancelotti. "We continued to the end."

Karim Benzema insisted Real Madrid are not overly dependent on his goals as Carlo Ancelotti's men prepare to face Inter in Wednesday's Champions League clash.

Madrid open their campaign with a trip to San Siro, having won just one of their previous eight away games against Inter in European competition.

Benzema, who is set to feature in his 17th consecutive Champions League, needs just one goal to overtake Raul and become the all-time fourth highest scorer in the competition.

However, the forward deflected questions as to whether his side are too reliant on his output and chose to focus on the team dynamic of Los Blancos.

"Real Madrid are a very strong team," Benzema said at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. "What I need to do is try to help my team with assists and goals. We have to win something and that is a collective effort.

"The Champions League is a different competition and we must try to do everything to win games.

"It's the most important competition. There are favourites, but something different often happens on the pitch, we have a good team and we will fight to win this Champions [League]."

Benzema also quashed suggestions that Madrid's new front three, which he has formed recently with Eden Hazard and Vinicius Junior, could recreate what he had with Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"I don't know, together we have done many things and many goals and that trident will remain in history," Benzema said.

"Vini [Vinicius Junior] is a strong player, he has grown and in this beginning of LaLiga he is scoring a lot. I am always by his side, I talk to him, if I can I talk to him and advise him because he is a top player.

"Now, however, let's think about today, about scoring and winning games."

Are Barcelona set to make a splash in 2022?

After losing Lionel Messi on a free transfer due to their crippling debt, Barca are busy planning for next season.

Franck Kessie and Youri Tielemans are believed to be on the radar at Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING PAIR

Barcelona are targeting Milan star Franck Kessie and Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans, according to reports.

Kessie is out of contract at the end of the season and he is yet to re-sign at Milan amid links with Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham.

Mundo Deportivo claims LaLiga giants Barca are considering a move for the Ivory Coast international, as well as Tielemans – who is reportedly wanted by the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fichajes says Premier League champions Manchester City are plotting a bid for Leeds United and England star Kalvin Phillips.

Real Madrid are interested in Lyon's Rayan Cherki as a long-term replacement for Karim Benzema, per Fichajes. It comes as Madrid continue to pursue PSG's Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

- Calciomercato claims Juventus are considering a move for Madrid left-back Ferland Mendy.

United are ready to rival Barca, Juve and Bayern Munich for RB Leipzig attacker Dani Olmo, according to Marca.

Karim Benzema applauded the performance of Vinicius Junior in Real Madrid's 5-2 win over Celta Vigo, labelling the Brazilian a "phenomenon".

Benzema would have been most people's star of the show, the Frenchman scoring a hat-trick and getting an assist.

But Vinicius was Madrid's other key man, scoring the goal that Benzema set up and also winning the penalty that allowed the France international to score his first LaLiga treble since April 2019.

Vinicius frequently ran at the Celta defence and often caused havoc when doing so, tallying 11 dribble attempts – a figure only he (14 vs Real Betis) and Nabil Fekir (14 vs Cadiz) have bettered in a single LaLiga game this term – and completing five of them.

His goal took Vinicius to four for the season, which is already a personal best for an individual campaign at Madrid, and second only to Benzema (five) in 2021-22.

After regularly being seen as a source of frustration, even for his team-mates, the 21-year-old appears to be coming of age and Benzema is relishing his improvement.

"Vinicius is a phenomenon," Benzema told Movistar. "I really like playing with him.

 

"He is young and I talk to him a lot, giving him advice, because I know what he's going through.

"But he helps us a lot. He's a great player and he's showed that he can play for Real Madrid."

Carlo Ancelotti echoed that sentiment but was also eager to share the praise out, with the Italian clearly thrilled by the exhibition produced by his forwards.

"Vinicius is in a spectacular moment and I am happy for him. He is playing with a lot of quality and is at a very high level," Ancelotti said.

"But not only Vinicius. Benzema was also fantastic, [Luka] Modric, Miguel Gutierrez. Everyone in attack was good."

Though Ancelotti did suggest he was a little perturbed by Madrid's sloppiness at the back, with a mix-up between Nacho Fernandez and Casemiro leading to Celta's opener, before the visitors carved them open to then go 2-1 later in the first half.

"I have a good taste in my mouth," he added. "The fans helped us a lot. When we were down on the scoreboard, they pushed us and we felt their encouragement.

"It was a great game, with mistakes and with good things. It had everything.

"Defensively we gave away two goals because we lacked balance. The defensive organisation has to improve. With the ball we are fine but without it we are not as good and that can harm us."

Karim Benzema scored a hat-trick and Eduardo Camavinga netted on his debut as Real Madrid marked their return to the Santiago Bernabeu with a thrilling 5-2 win over Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Madrid last played at their iconic home on March 1, 2020, before remodelling work began on the stadium, and fans were treated to a real spectacle.

Twice Celta led in the first half, with Benzema's first strike sandwiched between Santi Mina's opener and Franco Cervi's rather fortuitous tap-in.

But Benzema nodded Los Blancos level again early in the second half before setting up in-form Vinicius Junior with a defence-splitting pass.

Camavinga put the game beyond Celta soon after his introduction from the bench and Benzema completed his treble from the spot after some dazzling play by Vinicius.

Celta stunned Madrid in the fourth minute as Miguel Gutierrez was robbed out wide and neither Casemiro nor Nacho Fernandez could clear, allowing Iago Aspas to nudge the ball on to Mina and he slotted past Thibaut Courtois.

Madrid's response was good, their subsequent dominance rewarded with the equaliser – Benzema driving in a Federico Valverde cut-back from 12 yards.

But the visitors soon restored their lead. Hugo Mallo latched on to Aspas' lay-off and produced a disguised pass to pick out Cervi, whose initial audacious flick hit the post and came back to him for an easy finish.

Marshalling Benzema continued to prove difficult for Celta, however, and the Frenchman got his second of the day just after the restart with a wonderful header from Gutierrez's searching cross.

He then turned provider as Madrid went in front for the first time in the match, pulling out wide and playing a throughball beyond the defence for Vinicius, who capitalised on Jeison Murillo's dozing in the Celta offside trap and calmly stroked past Matias Dituro.

Camavinga got off the mark for his new club six minutes after coming off the bench, burying from a few yards out after Dituro could only parry Luka Modric's shot at the end of a surging solo run.

Vinicius then won a penalty, his feet too quick for Denis Suarez, and Benzema subsequently rounded off an engrossing match by securing his hat-trick with an emphatic finish.

Didier Deschamps insists he has no concerns over the atmosphere in the France camp after his side's winless run continued with a 1-1 draw against Ukraine. 

Les Blues suffered a shock Euro 2020 exit at the last-16 stage in June following defeat to Switzerland on penalties and have now drawn five games in a row for the first time ever. 

France's latest underwhelming performance came in Kiev on Saturday as Anthony Martial's first international goal in five years cancelled out Mykola Shaparenko's excellent opener. 

However, the reigning world champions are still in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022 and Deschamps has refuted suggestions there are some issues behind the scenes. 

"You have external impressions which are not the same as from the inside," he told Telefoot. "There really is no problem on this side of things. 

"I can assure you the group is concentrated, even if we are in a period with less success. Everything is linked in terms of confidence and success." 

Despite having 61.5 per cent of the ball and managing 16 shots, five of which were on target, Deschamps' men could not find a winning goal. 

France have now conceded the opening goal in five consecutive matches, their longest such run since the days of Raymond Domenech from November 2009 to June 2010. 

"The opponents offer us the same pattern in front of goal with group blocks," Deschamps added.  

"We have the annoying habit of chasing after the score now. There are times like that, you have to accept it." 

 

France are four points clear of second-placed Finland in Group D, though their next opponents have two games in hand. 

Ahead of Tuesday's clash between the sides in Lyon, France striker Karim Benzema accepts it is down to him and his team-mates to take the game to Finland if they are to return to winning ways. 

"There is nothing to worry about," he told Telefoot. "We have to set the pace and manage our efforts. It is up to us to set the speed.  

"If we keep the ball behind, we have to play fast and vertical passes to hurt the opponent. We have the players needed for that. We can't fall into the pace set by the opponent. 

"We need to enter the field with the desire to win." 

The match at Groupama Stadium will be an emotional occasion for Benzema, who spent 12 years at Lyon before joining Real Madrid in 2009. 

"It's very special. I have not yet played in this stadium," Benzema said. "Coming back to my city, where it all began for me, is special." 

Didier Deschamps insists he has no concerns over the atmosphere in the France camp after his side's winless run continued with a 1-1 draw against Ukraine. 

Les Blues suffered a shock Euro 2020 exit at the last-16 stage in June following defeat to Switzerland on penalties and have now drawn five games in a row for the first time ever. 

France's latest underwhelming performance came in Kiev on Saturday as Anthony Martial's first international goal in five years cancelled out Mykola Shaparenko's excellent opener. 

However, the reigning world champions are still in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022 and Deschamps has refuted suggestions there are some issues behind the scenes. 

"You have external impressions which are not the same as from the inside," he told Telefoot. "There really is no problem on this side of things. 

"I can assure you the group is concentrated, even if we are in a period with less success. Everything is linked in terms of confidence and success." 

Despite having 61.5 per cent of the ball and managing 16 shots, five of which were on target, Deschamps' men could not find a winning goal. 

France have now conceded the opening goal in five consecutive matches, their longest such run since the days of Raymond Domenech from November 2009 to June 2010. 

"The opponents offer us the same pattern in front of goal with group blocks," Deschamps added.  

"We have the annoying habit of chasing after the score now. There are times like that, you have to accept it." 

 

France are four points clear of second-placed Finland in Group D, though their next opponents have two games in hand. 

Ahead of Tuesday's clash between the sides in Lyon, France striker Karim Benzema accepts it is down to him and his team-mates to take the game to Finland if they are to return to winning ways. 

"There is nothing to worry about," he told Telefoot. "We have to set the pace and manage our efforts. It is up to us to set the speed.  

"If we keep the ball behind, we have to play fast and vertical passes to hurt the opponent. We have the players needed for that. We can't fall into the pace set by the opponent. 

"We need to enter the field with the desire to win." 

The match at Groupama Stadium will be an emotional occasion for Benzema, who spent 12 years at Lyon before joining Real Madrid in 2009. 

"It's very special. I have not yet played in this stadium," Benzema said. "Coming back to my city, where it all began for me, is special." 

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