The French striker has often had to fight for recognition at Real Madrid, but he’s back in the spotlight following a summer of change at the Bernabeu
Real Madrid would be a better team if Cristiano Ronaldo was still on their books. There’s not an argument to be had there.
There is no means that any side becomes more complete after parting with a five-time Ballon d’Or winner with over 600 career goals to his name.
It’s, however, possible to argue that individuals within the Santiago Bernabeu stand to benefit from the absence of a modern day icon.
Ronaldo, throughout his 9 years in Madrid, was a larger-than-life presence who was the producer, director and star of his own sporting soap opera.
Others would get air time, but they were little more than extras in the grand scheme of things.
A leading man has been written out of the script, allowing a supporting cast to step into the spotlight and take the storyline in a different direction.
Change, in this instance, can be considered a positive.
Real are not better for having lost a manager in Zinedine Zidane who guided them to 3 Champions League crowns, or their all-time leading goalscorer, they’re just different – and that is no bad thing.
There are, after all, nonetheless plenty of familiar faces around who boast superstar pedigree in their own right .
Signed in the same summer of 2009 as Ronaldo, the Frenchman has been more of a right-hand man than a leading one throughout his time at the Bernabeu.
There have been plenty of bumps in the road for the 30-year-old frontman, with Madridistas never shy of creating their feelings known from the stands, but the end of the current campaign will see him full a decade of loyal service at one of the demanding clubs in world soccer.
He may not be able to compete with Ronaldo’s remarkable haul of 450 goals, however he ought to cross 200 this season and is still ticking along at just under one effort each other game.
His early showings in 2018-19 suggest he could clamber back above that mark, with Benzema – like Gareth Bale – enjoying a new lease of life after being freed of comparisons to an incomparable figure alongside him.
Julen Lopetegui has stated that Bale and Benzema are “training like little kids”, with the latter being backed to step into Ronaldo’s boots and take the challenge for the Liga Golden Boot to Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi .
He stated: “Why shouldn’t he finish with 30 or 40 goals? The most important thing is the team and goals are the work of the whole team. Benzema is a great player and always has been. What he’s doing is credit to him. He’s happy and is helping the team, and it’ll stay like this.”
What he’s doing is scoring goals and looking like the deadly finisher Real feared they may have lost in the summer transfer market.
Benzema has 4 league efforts to his name so far, with that return secured from just 5 shots – all of which have been on target.
You can’t ask for much more than that, particularly when you consider that Ronaldo is still ready to open his account at Juventus after peppering opposition goalkeepers with 17 shots.
Benzema has always been a top striker, among the best No. 9s on the planet, but he’s now a more mature performer and is threatening to take his game to even greater heights as he approaches his 31st birthday.
It’s still early days in the current campaign, but personal bests are being set across the board.
Shot conversion (80%), big chance conversion (100%), passing accuracy (88.03%) and duel success (68.75%) have never been as high for Benzema, while he’s finding the back of the net once each 67.5 minutes.
He’s playing more passes per game than he has done previously, while seeing more touches than he has done for a number of years – a clear indication that he’s getting extra concerned with no Ronaldo round to dominate proceedings.
Lopetegui has moved him more centrally, with Benzema no longer required to be a link man forced out to the flanks in an effort to create space for others and pull opposition defenders out of position.
Real are favouring a extra possession-based game than they did under Zidane, with a high press allowing their forwards to lead from the front and set the tempo – an approach intended to deliver rich rewards for these operating in the closing third.
That’s not to say that Benzema has become anything less of a team player, with his selfless qualities having been talked up throughout his time in Madrid.
Zidane informed UEFA recently of his fellow countryman : “Karim was important for the balance of the side in terms of how I wanted the team to attack. He helped to implement our possession game by playing his team-mates in. He makes himself available and is a real team player.”
The same couldn’t be said of Ronaldo, but then Benzema isn’t in the CR7 mould and has never pretended to be .
He’s different, Real are different, but the Blancos shall be hoping that the end result remains the same when major silverware is handed out at the end of the season.
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