Karim Benzema backed by Marcelo, Butragueno over Lineker criticism
Real Madrid vice-captain Marcelo and director Emilio Butragueno have followed coach Zinedine Zidane in defending Karim Benzema from criticism from ex-England international Gary Lineker.
Former Barcelona striker Lineker tweeted during Madrid's 1-1 Champions League draw with Tottenham last week that Benzema was "overrated" and "rescued" by teammate Cristiano Ronaldo's goal-scoring feats.
That led to indignation in the Spanish capital, with Zidane calling the comments coming from someone within the game "embarrassing" and saying his fellow Frenchman Benzema was "by far" the best striker his team could have.
Rested by Zidane for Sunday's 3-0 La Liga win over Eibar, Benzema watched Madrid take control through an early Paulo Oliveira own goal and Marco Asensio strike, before entering in the second half and playing a key role in a superb late move which was finished off by fellow substitute Marcelo.
Speaking to beIN SPORTS afterwards, Marcelo said he understood why Madrid fans sometimes wanted more goals from Benzema, but added that the striker's all-round game made him such a great asset.
"Benzema is a really top player," Marcelo said. "We've also got several other players who are capable of scoring goals, like Cristiano, who weighs in with a lot, Asensio and Isco. But it's perfectly normal that people want more because the fans are keen to see the strikers getting their names on the score sheet. However, we've seen that there's far more to Benzema's game than just goals. For me, he's the best No. 9 in Europe."
Former Madrid striker Butragueno told beIN SPORTS that Benzema's "subtle" role in Marcelo's goal, including a clever flick to start the move and the assist close to the penalty area, showed just the type of "great player" he was.
"We know the level of demand is very high, but there are some things which cannot be questioned," he said. "Benzema is a very good player. The third goal was an example of his subtlety and how he links up with his teammates. What he did could only be done by a great player."
Lineker's criticism of Benzema was taken seriously by the Spanish media, with most outlets devoting significant coverage to arguing why the former Barcelona player was mistaken.
Lineker, a BBC pundit, appeared to take the whole thing much less seriously given his light-hearted tweet after Madrid's win on Sunday.
Brilliant assist from Benzema. With his sort of quality it's hard to understand why Zidane left him out of the starting lineup. 😉— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 22, 2017
Some Spanish pundits tied the comments about Benzema to Madrid's reported interest in Tottenham centre-forward Harry Kane.
Ex-Tottenham player Lineker also tweeted as Kane scored twice in Sunday's 4-1 Premier League dismantling of Liverpool that he was glad Zidane preferred Benzema to the England international.
He wrote: "Harry Kane scores again. Thankfully Zidane thinks Benzema is the best so they won't be interested in poaching him."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan