Karim Benzema really stepped up for Real Madrid following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus last season. This season, he has also hit the ground running and looks set to repeat his performances from last season which turned out to be one of the best he’s ever had in a Madrid shirt. The rest of the Real Madrid squad, however, are a different story altogether.
The Real Madrid of old would face down their current crisis — if indeed that is what it is — by getting out their chequebook and bringing in one, two or three big names. They did exactly that this season, signifying their intent to challenge on all fronts by shelling out over €100m in signing Eden Hazard from Chelsea and Luka Jovic from Eintracht Frankfurt. So far, the pair’s signing – as well as others who came in during the summer – have been a bust. They have only proven to just be names of whom the fans can rush out and buy merchandise as opposed to the type of players that will become part of a team and make that team better.
Last season’s performances and results didn’t come as a huge surprise to those of us who have followed Real Madrid for a while. In fact, it was one of their worst campaigns in recent times (and in history, all things considered). Changes should have been made a while ago, but the insanity which they pulled by winning three consecutive Champions League titles in a row made it a bit difficult to admit this. It even showed in the club’s last victorious Champions League campaign where Los Blancos rode their luck till the very end, and it spilled over into last season.
In that season of their last Champions League triumph, they finished third in La Liga, 17 points behind winners Barcelona and three points behind city rivals Atletico Madrid in the league. Last season, the tale was the same, with Los Merengues finishing 19 points off Barcelona in first place and eight off Atletico in second. This season is already shaping up to be like the previous two, with Karim Benzema already leading the goalscoring charts for Madrid and being the major attacking outlet the club has.
Benzema is living a second youth at Real Madrid, playing his best football in forever, and in a time when a lot of people had written him off too. The 31-year old Frenchman has been carrying Real Madrid on his back for a while now that his fitness is respecting him, as he’s been able to play in more than 90% of Los Blancos’ La Liga Santander games since the end of January 2018.
Coach Zinedine Zidane never passed up the chance to defend Benzema during those dark days, when Benzema could not deliver the goods for Real Madrid. Before last season, Benzema scored only 31 goals and had 18 assists from 95 matches across all competitions over two seasons (via Transfermarkt). However, Benzema ended last season with 30 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, doing his part in replacing the all-time goalscoring record holder for Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo’s contribution.
This season, he has scored five from six games in La Liga at a better shot ratio per game than the whole of last season (3.8 to 2.9 via WhoScored). His expected goal ratio (xG) too has already hit 0.53 per game in just six La Liga games as opposed to his total expected goal ratio of 0.57 per game from 36 La Liga games (via understat).
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Per understat, this performance of Benzema’s has also seen Real Madrid’s xG ratio per successful shots hit 0.32 from just six games as opposed to a total of 0.40 from 38 La Liga games last season, in which he scored most of the goals.
There’s no greater indication of Benzema’s importance to Real Madrid than the fact that only Lionel Messi has scored more LaLiga goals than him in 2019 – the Barcelona man is on 21, while he has 20.
Earlier this month in a documentary dedicated to him by French media outfit RMC Sport, Benzema explained that he was “the piece that made it all work” during the infamous BBC era of Real Madrid. He also noted that Bale was a “rocket”, and that Ronaldo was the better finisher of the three which meant that he had to step aside and allow both of them work while he played supporting cast.
However, in the post-Ronaldo era, Benzema has stepped up to become Madrid’s talisman, and while he has not exactly filled those shoes yet, he is proving to be important for the team this season and beyond, and will finally vindicate himself before the unforgiving fans of Los Merengues.