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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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By ESPN Staff

Valdano backs Benzema to fill void

Real Madrid director general Jorge Valdano hopes under-pressure striker Karim Benzema will turn out to be another Gonzalo Higuain, who overcame his own slow start with the Spanish giants to become a big hit at the Bernabeu.

Benzema has struggled to impress since his big-money move from Lyon in 2009 and his match-winning strike in last night's 1-0 win over Real Mallorca was only his second league goal of the season.

Benzema has found himself in the spotlight after the loss of Higuain with a serious back injury left the 23-year-old Frenchman as the only senior centre-forward available to Jose Mourinho, but Valdano is hoping for better times ahead.

"Goals are essential to strikers. A striker needs confidence and it comes with goals,'' Valdano told Madrid's website. "He (Benzema) had a good game and scored a goal that allowed us to take three points.''

Higuain found himself under the microscope after failing to score in his first nine appearances for Madrid following his move from River Plate four years ago. He did not have such a successful second season either until a purple patch at the end of the campaign when he scored eight goals in 11 games. Since then Higuain has netted 49 league goals in two seasons to finish as Madrid's leading scorer on both occasions, while he had struck 10 times in 18 competitive games this season before being sidelined by his back problem.

Valdano added: "In the past, it was players like Higuain who had to resolve similar situations as they were heavily scrutinised, and Higuain has turned out to be a great striker for Real Madrid. We hope the same happens to Benzema.''

Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, meanwhile, wants Benzema to be left to develop in peace. Spain's World Cup-winning captain said: "We should all just talk about football. Benzema is another player in the squad and he scored a nice goal. It will do him a lot of good. He should be left alone to do his job. A lot has been asked of him since he arrived, he is very young and we need to take things bit by bit.''

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