Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema is the type of player who can excite any football fan, coach Santiago Solari said after the often-maligned Frenchman scored twice and inspired his side to a 4-2 win at Espanyol in La Liga on Sunday.
Benzema, who has been playing through the pain of a fractured finger sustained two weeks ago, got the third-placed visitors off to a dream start by pouncing on a rebound and opening the scoring in the fourth minute.
The forward then made it 3-1 to Madrid just before halftime with a magnificent strike, playing a one-two with Vinicius Jr and stroking the ball into the bottom corner, and he played a role in Gareth Bale scoring the European champions' fourth.
"He had a spectacular game, Madrid fans are enjoying watching him and so would any person who likes football," Solari said after a fifth win from six games in all competitions for his side, who are hitting form after a poor start to 2019.
"Karim is such a generous player, he makes his team mates better with his play and with his efforts."
Benzema, 31, is Real's leading scorer this term with 13 goals though he has not always enjoyed the devotion of the fans due to his inconsistent scoring record, having notched more than 20 in the league in only two of his 10 seasons with the club.
Yet with Madrid's all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo now at Juventus, and the likes of Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio struggling for consistency and with injuries, Benzema has turned into of one of their most reliable players this year.
"Today he scored twice, but he always puts in complete performances," added Solari, after the win kept third-placed Madrid within five points of local rivals Atletico, although still 10 adrift of leaders Barcelona.
Winger Lucas Vazquez also heaped praise on Benzema.
"He is proving that he is the best number nine in the world," he said. "He is scoring goals, working hard and linking up with everyone. It's wonderful to be able to play with him."
How to stream and watch on TV...
The match will be shown online on Eleven Sports 1 and STV Player.
Espanyol – LLDLL
Real Madrid – WDLWW
Real Madrid 4/6
Espanyol 0-2 Real Madrid
Callum will be along shortly with all the live action. In the meantime here's the latest from the Real Madrid camp:
Barcelona can extend their lead at the top of La Liga to five points with victory over Girona at the Estadi Montilivi -- not Miami -- today. Ernesto Valverde made several changes as his side fell to defeat in the Copa del Rey against Sevilla in midweek, and a win today will be needed to justify that.
The Blaugrana, in strong form in La Liga, will be strong favourites, but they will have to be wary of a Girona side more than capable of causing an upset. Kick off is just minutes away.
Girona: Bono, Alcala, Bernardo, Juanpe, Porro, Pons, Granell, Valery, Portu, Garcia, Stuani.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Vidal, Coutinho, Suarez, Messi.
Girona, in red and white, get us going. Can Barcelona come out on top in this Catalan derby and extend their lead over Atletico Madrid?
Girona 0-0 Barcelona
Girona have started well. The visitors are forced to deal with a couple of long balls into the box, before Garcia breaks down the left. His cross is headed clear by Pique.
Girona 0-0 Barcelona
Barcelona break forward and win a free kick on the left. Messi, standing menacingly over the ball, swings in a dangerous cross which just about makes its way into the arms of goalkeeper Bono.
Girona 0-0 Barcelona
Coutinho collects the ball in space and turns toward the Girona goal. He cuts inside and looks set to hit a trademark long shot. But instead he lofts a tame cross into the box, which rolls harmlessly through for a goal kick.
GOAL! Girona 0-1 Barcelona (Semedo)
Barcelona capitalise on some loose Girona defending and lead at the Estadi Montilivi. The ball bobbles around the box, before dropping at the feet of right back Semedo, who sweeps a left-footed finish into the bottom corner. An unexpected goal scorer, perhaps, but no surprise that Barcelona are in front. They've started turning the screw after a slow opening few minutes.
Girona 0-1 Barcelona
Girona, looking for an immediate response, break down the left. The ball is played towards the back post and Stuani goes down under pressure. There are some appeals for a penalty but the referee isn't interested.
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