Karim Benzema: “When you play with a guy who scored 50 or 60 goals a season, of course, you are at the service of the player because he is someone who scored a lot,” the Frenchman said.
“I had to adjust, and I did. He walked away. So it was up to me to take the initiative and demonstrate that I could make a difference.”
When questioned about his roles at Real Madrid with and without Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema stated the above.
After scoring a hat-trick in the first leg at Stamford Bridge last week, France forward will lead Real’s attack in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea on Tuesday. It was his second hat-trick in as many European club games, having scored three in the last 16 against Paris St-Germain.
Karim Benzema has been in excellent form despite off-field issues; he is appealing a sentence for blackmail after a French court found him guilty in November.
On the field, the striker has 11 Champions League goals this season, second only to Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski (12).
At the Bernabeu, Benzema, 34, spent years in Ronaldo’s shadow. Despite being mostly a creator for others, the Frenchman has already established himself as Real’s main man – and one of Europe’s most clinical attackers.
Benzema has 77 goals in 131 games for the Blancos since Ronaldo’s departure in 2018. So, how did he pull it off?
|Season||Goals (La Liga only)||Minutes per goal|
|2017-18 (final season playing with Ronaldo)||5||431|
Getting goals out of odd situations
Karim Benzema is scoring a lot of goals, but it’s important to remember that he’s also scoring high-quality goals. On a technical level, the striker is creating finishes that few attackers can match, both with his feet and with his head.
This wasn’t always the case. The Frenchman’s finishing used to be highly chastised. As Ronaldo began his final season with Real, he was in a lot of pain. Benzema was booed by large sections of the Bernabeu after missing six good chances in a 2-2 draw against Valencia in August 2017.
Those difficulties persisted throughout the season. Benzema underperformed his La Liga expected goals (xG) tally by 8.97 goals in 2017-18, scoring nine fewer goals than would be expected from the opportunities he received. In comparison, his 24 La Liga goals this season have come from an xG of 19.85.
Benzema’s deft touch and control have always been a highlight of his game, but he’s now putting them to better use inside the penalty area.
That is supported by statistics. Benzema had 93 touches in the opposing penalty area in 2017-18. He’s on track to pass that mark this season, having reached 86 with little than a month left in the season. And he’s demonstrating the ability to go along with it, scoring from opportunities that would evade most forwards.
A minor adjustment to the position
It used to be that Benzema would play with his back to goal, hoping to draw Ronaldo and others into play. He still does it on occasion, but the Frenchman now prefers to gather the ball with his back to the goal.
Since Ronaldo’s departure four years ago, Benzema has switched gears, lining up as Real Madrid’s center striker but frequently pulling into the inside-left channel. His decision-making takes control from there.
Benzema’s football intellect is one of his strongest assets, despite his technical abilities. He understands exactly what he needs to do next when he rolls in from the left.
Last October, he demonstrated it as France came back from a goal down to win the Nations League final against Spain. Benzema immediately calculated that there were no other teammates in a better position to score after acquiring a half-yard of space inside Spain’s right-back Cesar Azpilicueta, so he blasted the ball over goalkeeper Unai Simon from an ambitious angle to score a crucial equalize.
With 10 minutes remaining and the game still tied at 1-1, Benzema found himself in a similar inside-left position. He noticed Kylian Mbappe’s run on the right side of the box this time, giving him a chance to win the game and the title.
Karim Benzema is quite effective in this field. This season, Benzema has seen 48 percent of his touches outside the box come down the left third of the pitch in La Liga.
His positioning has also aided a productive connection with Brazilian left-winger Vinicius Junior, who has 17 goals for Real this season in all competitions.
This season, Benzema and Vinicius have combined for 18 goals, with one of them assisting the other. Benzema dropping deep to force an opponent’s center-back out of the defensive line allows room for Vinicius to run in behind off the left flank, which is a typical tactic.
Build-up traits still shine through
|Season (La Liga only)||Number of passes completed per game||Chances created per game|
|2017-18 (final season playing with Ronaldo)||23||1.4|
“There are forwards who do not touch the ball during the game, then score in the 87th minute, and they are ecstatic. Personally, I’m disgusted if I don’t contribute anything with the ball yet score in the 90th minute.”
This is a Benzema remark from 2017, and the substance of those comments still shines through in his performance today, despite his enormous development as a goalscorer in the five years afterward.
He remains the essential connecting guy for many of Real Madrid’s attacks, as he demonstrated last week against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. His brilliant finish was only part of his contribution to the opening goal; he also linked the play twice in the build-up.
In reality, Benzema is not only La Liga’s top goalscorer this season, but he also leads the league in assists with 11, demonstrating his versatility as a number nine.
Benzema is keeping his traditional qualities as a creator and extracting the most from his teammates, but he is also combining this with incredible goal-scoring figures. It’s possible that he’ll be in contention for the Ballon d’Or as a result of it.