Karim Benzema has had an unusual career at the Santiago Bernabeu. This is his 10th season in Madrid, making him the third-longest serving current player behind Marcelo and Sergio Ramos. He has scored almost a goal every other game and assisted on average once every four games. Somehow, he has never quite been adored in the same way as some of his teammates. Under the shadow of more electric, creative players he has gone underappreciated.
This season has been disjointed for him. Four goals in the first three La Liga games were then followed by a drought that ended last night. That run of eight games in all competitions without a goal cast doubts over his effectiveness in the post-Ronaldo era. How does he thrive best? Is the lack of Ronaldo a blessing in disguise or a hindrance? Here we compare two performances, in particular, to see how he thrives and how he fails.
Stellar Benzema performance against Viktoria Plzen
Opening the scoring in the 11th minute was an ideal way to boost his confidence after a dire run of goalscoring form. Lucas Vazquez drifted in a perfect cross for the Frenchman to pounce. It had been over nine hours since his last goal, and it boosted his confidence immensely. As Real dominated possession, Benzema completed an impressive five dribbles. The rest of the team put together just two in total. Last season he averaged just two shots per game, a very low statistic for a main striker. Against Viktoria Plzen, his five shots were only lower than Gareth Bale’s six.
In the three previous seasons, he had never averaged more than 1.9 completed dribbles per 90 minutes. This can in part be explained by his role as focal point pinned to the opposition defence. Ronaldo’s unconventional role could only function if there was a disciplined framework around him.
Wasteful performance against CSKA Moscow
It might seem unfair to compare a home performance with an away one, but certain statistics make this valid. For a start, in Moscow Real had a whopping 72% possession, compared to 69% last night. The atmosphere and pressure are intangible factors admittedly, but the style of game was not entirely different.
Benzema had Vazquez on one flank again, but this time Marco Asensio on the other. The latter had a completely anonymous performance and rarely fed Benzema anything. As a result, the striker had to drop deep on numerous occasions just to find the ball. As you can see from his heat map below on the right, his 50 touches were over almost the entire pitch. This is despite how deep the concentration of CSKA touches were.
He was dispossessed three times, more than any other player, and had a joint-high two unsuccessful touches. This was a consequence of his unorthodox positioning on the pitch, and a lack of service.
With the faster and more direct Bale on the left flank, Benzema is far more effective. The five shots against CSKA all being off target tells of his lack of effectiveness in front of goal. He resorted to taking chances from distance without a coherent supply line.
Whatever anyone’s personal view of Karim Benzema, he guarantees goals if given the opportunity. The caveat is that he needs the right kind of service. In the absence of Ronaldo, the entire shape of Real Madrid’s attacks is naturally different. Asensio and Vazquez as a wide pair are perhaps not the most likely to get the best out of Benzema – the question is, are his goals worth shaping the rest of team to suit him?