Benzema hits purple patch at perfect time

MADRID - Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has returned to form after a frustrating journey through a goalscoring wilderness and the timing could scarcely be better for the nine-times European champions.

Thanks to the France international's goal in last month's 1-1 first-leg draw, Real are well placed to get past Benzema's former club Olympique Lyon on Wednesday and reach the last eight for the first time since 2004.

"What happened was I found myself again, I found my true level again," Benzema said in an interview with Spanish sports daily As published on Monday.

"I am in a purple patch in my career and I know I have to make the most of it," he added, as Real prepare to take on the side that knocked them out at the same stage last term.

The 23-year-old Benzema struggled to live up to expectations in the Spanish capital following his 35 million-euro move from Lyon in 2009.

After Gonzalo Higuain succumbed to a long-term back injury, coach Jose Mourinho has shown more faith and a double in Saturday's 2-0 win over Hercules took his tally to eight in his last six outings and 19 in all competitions for the season.

A further boost to Mourinho is the news joint La Liga top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo could be back from injury after the Portugal forward sat out the last two league matches with a leg muscle injury.

DREAM MOVE

Benzema secured his dream move to Spain after scoring 43 goals over five seasons for Lyon, helping them to four league titles. He was Ligue 1's top scorer in 2007-08 with 20 goals.

He has netted five in his last three Champions League games and has a total of 18 in just 30 matches in Europe's elite club competition for Real and Lyon.

"At the moment everything I do is turning out well. That little bit of luck is helping me score a lot of goals," he said.

Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas knows Benzema well and said the striker's return to form was bad news for his club.

"I saw him play for France against Brazil in Paris (last month) and he is a better player now in every sense, physically and mentally," he told sports daily Marca on Monday.

"I think he sent a very clear message to Mourinho in the first leg when he scored just after coming on. Mourinho is obliged to play him and he has no choice but to play well. It's not good news for us."

Lyon, on an unbeaten run of seven games in all competitions, warmed up for Wednesday's match with a 2-0 win at Sochaux.

Argentine striker Lisandro Lopez has four goals in two games and looks in devastating form and Lyon could welcome back France playmaker Yoann Gourcuff and Brazil centre-back Cris from injury.

"We should be at full strength," coach Claude Puel told reporters after the Sochaux game, although full-back Aly Cissokho is doubtful with a thigh strain.

Probable teams:

Real Madrid: 1-Iker Casillas; 4-Sergio Ramos, 2-Ricardo Carvalho, 3-Pepe, 12-Marcelo; 14-Xabi Alonso, 24-Sami Khedira; 22-Angel Di Maria, 23-Mesut Ozil, 7-Cristiano Ronaldo; 9-Karim Benzema.

Olympique Lyon: 1-Hugo Lloris; 13-Anthony Reveillere, 3-Cris, 5-Dejan Lovren, 20-Aly Cissokho or 12-Thimothee Kolodzieczak; 6-Kim Kallstrom, 28-Jeremy Toulalan, 29-Yoann Gourcuff, 7-Jimmy Briand, 18-Bafetimbi Gomis, 9-Lisandro Lopez.

Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)


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