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Zidane launches stout defence of under-fire Benzema

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has brushed aside criticism of Karim Benzema and insisted the striker is having a "great season".

The France international was the subject of jeers from the Madrid faithful during last weekend's 2-1 LaLiga win over Malaga, while his recent displays have come under fire.

Benzema has failed to find the net in his last four outings, although prior to that run he had scored in five successive matches either side of the mid-season break.

A recent poll in AS showed that 88 per cent of Madrid fans would prefer to see Benzema start on the bench and while Zidane concedes that playing for the club brings an added pressure, the coach shrugged off any talk of a "campaign" against his compatriot.

"We're not concerned, he's having a great season," Zidane said ahead of Sunday's home clash with Real Sociedad. "We know what Karim can offer the side but the fans always want more from their players and that's something we must accept.

"He has the right character, he can accept the fans' point of view. He won't hide and he will always have my support."

Zidane also rejected the notion he gives his countryman preferential treatment.

"There's no difference," he said. "I love all of my players. I have 24 players and regardless what is said about each they are my footballers. They all play for Real Madrid so you are exposed to criticism, it's part and parcel of being a footballer.

"The only thing we have in common is the language, that's our special bond but I treat all of my players the same, they're all important.

"I'm not going to talk about campaigns but he can accept what he reads. The team comes first and he'll keep playing for the side and his team-mates.

"I just want my players to give their all. Sometimes they receive praise, sometimes not, sometimes it's fair and sometimes unfair but you keep giving your best."

Among a barrage of questions concerning Benzema, Zidane found time to provide injury updates on Marcelo (hamstring) and James Rodriguez (calf).

"I'm not too sure how long Marcelo will be out for, he feels good, he wanted to come out and train [on Saturday] and he trained yesterday, so after seven days I'm just happy to see him training," Zidane said.

"James is training, which is great news. Hopefully next week he'll be training with his team-mates, fingers crossed."

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