Is the BBC dead? Benzema & Bale now mere supporting actors on Real's Ronaldo show
Zinedine Zidane was crystal clear. When he took over from Rafa Benitez as Real Madrid coach in January 2016, the Frenchman would not reveal his preferred players for the starting line-up, but he was happy to announce one thing. "The idea is to play with the three in attack," he said.
Those three were Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. Or as they are more commonly referred to by fans, the media and pundits in Spain, the BBC (taking, of course, one letter from each name: Bale, Benzema, Cristiano).
These days, however, the trident is not what it was. Injury problems for Bale in particular meant the three rarely featured together last season and in January of this year, they all appeared on the pitch in unison for the first time in 273 days.
In total, they had not featured in the same side for 43 consecutive games. And even in last season's Champions League final when Bale came on as subsitute, it was in place of Benzema.
The Welsh winger and the French forward have suffered from injuries and a dip in form again in the current campaign and have both been booed by fans at the Santiago Bernabeu. Meanwhile, Spanish sports paper AS has taken to writing bbC (and not BBC), with the initial of only Cristiano considered worthy of a capital letter.
The first match they all started together this term was a 4-1 win away to Valencia, a result that brought plenty of optimism. However, they have only started four fixtures since: a 2-2 draw at Levante, a 4-0 win at home to Alaves, a 3-1 success against Getafe and last weekend's 2-1 victory at Eibar.
The Alaves game was the highlight as the three scored, doing so all together in the same match for the first time since April 2016 as Ronaldo handed the ball to Benzema for the Frenchman to convert a last-minute penalty.
Earlier, Ronaldo had netted twice and Bale had also hit the target, with Benzema assisting twice before his late strike. It was a reminder of just how effective the three can be when all are on song.
However, it is not really a trident any more because Zidane plays 4-4-2 and even against Alaves, Bale was deployed as a left winger in a four-man midfield, with Benzema and Ronaldo up front.
And in the two Champions league last-16 clashes against Paris Saint-Germain recently, Bale was left on the bench both times, while Benzema often seems to get the nod because he is the club's only senior centre-forward.
"It's true that Benzema isn't scoring a lot, but he gives us other things," Zidane said last week. "I'm positive and I believe the goals will come. And with Gareth there is nothing – he is a fundamental player for us."
However, Madrid will be targeting a new striker in the summer, with Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski one possibility, while Neymar and Eden Hazard are also likely to be transfer targets.
None of that is much concern to Ronaldo, who is back to his best with 14 goals already this year. But Benzema and Bale are merely supporting actors for the Portuguese these days – and the BBC could soon be a thing of the past at Real Madrid.