When Real Madrid stepped out on the pitch against Valencia for their first home league game of the season, they had a routine task on their hands. Undoubtedly, the world’s best team led by a manager who has defied expectations over the last 18-odd months in the form of Zinedine Zidane, a win was a necessity. But the team, for once, looked like they weren’t up for the task.
At the end of the 90, they drew 2-2, with the exceptional Marco Asensio sparing their blushes late on, and for a side of their calibre, this was obviously seen as two points dropped rather than one point gained.
A lot of the blame came down to one man, Karim Benzema, although most of it could be justified. The Frenchman squandered several chances, including several from close range throughout the game that would certainly have given Zidane’s side a comfortable cushion on the night. However, this disregard for his skill and importance for his side has gone a little too far over the last few months.
One bad game does not make a bad player, but many completely neglect how much Benzema means to this Real Madrid juggernaut that has been so dominant since Zinedine Zidane took over and, in the process, created one of the best teams in the history of the sport.
Karim Benzema’s task is simple: he’s a forward who doesn’t score as many goals as traditionally expected of one, but is heavily involved in the side’s attacking play, which only a few can perform, let alone perfect.
Of course a forward’s main task is to score goals, but Benzema is different when compared to other forwards. His role and job in the side involves a lot of work deeper in midfield or around the edge of the final third of the pitch—like a player occupying the “number 10” role.
There’s a reason he is a constant figure in Zinedine Zidane’s side, and that is because of his qualities on the ball which benefits his wingers, and allows them to rack up such incredible goal scoring figures.
The Frenchman is another example of a modern “false nine”. A creator, goal scorer and all-round brilliant footballer, he is often the man that makes Real Madrid’s blistering attack tick and is influential when in a difficult situation on the ball with his power and effectiveness with his back to goal often going unnoticed amidst the brilliance of this Real Madrid team that has conquered the world under the guidance of their manager.
He is an effective footballer, one with a great pass and vision on him and his interplay with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale over the last few years has been one of the major reasons for the club’s success. Most of his work done is outside the box and that is why managers have kept him on the starting eleven in most team-sheets since he joined the club in 2009.
In eight years, he has played under five bosses, several who prefer having a player with his characteristics, and he deserves respect for meeting their expectations in that time. His record in front of goal isn’t too bad either – 181 goals in 370 games – making him the eighth greatest goal getter in Los Blancos history, one behind the legendary Francisco Gento, with Mexican great Hugo Sánchez not placed too far away with 208.
His record speaks volumes about his contribution and subsequent importance. Over the last five seasons excluding the current campaign (2012/13 onwards) he has recorded 120 goals + assists in La Liga, with the stat for the latter being commendable for a forward – 11, nine, 10, seven and five assists in a season – his 2015/16 season was the most fruitful, having broken the 30-goal barrier (24 goals and seven assists). Despite not telling the whole story numbers don’t lie, and for the sake of comparison, his records stand strongly stand with those set by Lionel Messi, the departed Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The negativity for him arises due to his lack of competence and sporadic poor finishing in front of goal, and as mentioned, being a forward that doesn’t score as many would traditionally expect, this is his most frustrating aspect. However, with that said, his importance towards Cristiano Ronaldo must also be noted.
The Portuguese has been a major beneficiary of Benzema’s outstanding link-up abilities and workmanship with the French forward’s tendency to drag defenders towards him allowing Ronaldo to earn space is important goal scoring areas on the pitch.
But perhaps, it is the same man that overshadows his success in front of goal. Benzema scored 20 goals or more between the 2010-11 and 2015-16 seasons, missing out by one last year and that is eclipsed by Cristiano Ronaldo’s constantly crazy numbers in front of the net. For all the chances he misses, a record like that would be greatly welcomed by any side in the world, and Arsenal, who were heavily interested in him in 2015, know that.
He would have been perfect for Arsene Wenger’s system, as Benzema’s style of play matching the one Arsenal want off their forwards. Nevertheless, Arsenal’s loss (or unwillingness to pay) has been Real Madrid’s gain and that has been evident since 2016.
Zinedine Zidane Effect
Ever since Zinedine Zidane took over, Real Madrid’s front three, no matter the personnel have been a vital cog, with constant switching of roles being a crucial aspect. Many times, Benzema can be found out on the wing and he provides massive aid to their quick, ruthless counter-attacks wherever he is placed on the pitch.
And while in an attacking area, Zidane’s tactical brilliance and effective utilisation of both Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the box, where they position themselves between opposition centre-backs to create havoc in the box has resulted in them playing a large part in the 27 headed goals by them in La Liga last season.
For an example of Benzema’s immense impact in the box, check out his goal against Napoli in the Champions League last season, where he makes a smart run towards the six-yard box, blindsiding the Patronepei defence and powerfully heading the ball past a stranded Pepe Reina. While not disregarding the quality of the cross by Dani Carvajal, Benzema’s smartness, power and tenacious movement is all on display here and it is further proof for his lethality off the ball.
His importance is well evident. The Frenchman is often the scapegoat for Real Madrid’s rare shortcomings, and his record is often neglected. He is one of the best players in the world, and one of the club’s greatest ever forwards having had a huge hand in a lot of their success in recent years.
The 29-year-old is still going to be their main man for the upcoming season and most likely the foreseeable future, and Real Madrid fans need to respect that fact. There is no doubt that he falls in the “world class” category for footballers, and a large section Real Madrid faithful need to show more respect for his effectiveness and not only his occasional failings.
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