The Frenchman’s Crucial Goals Has Made Him One of the Leading Candidates for the Ballon d’Or
By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press
Only 13 minutes before Real Madrid’s Champions League clash with Chelsea on April 6th, Karim Benzema knew it was an opportune time to complete a vital piece of his pre match preparation.
He ate for the very first time that day.
During Ramadan, Benzema, who is of Muslim faith, has been fasting from sunrise to sunset to observe the religous month from April 1st to May 1st. He claimed it had no impact on his play and he felt “good”.
“For me, it’s very important and I feel good when I’m fasting,” Benzema said.
He scored a stunning hat trick that night at Stamford Bridge. Two masterful headers and an easy finish after an error from Chelsea’s goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, lifted Madrid to a 3-1 victory in the first leg of the tie.
If Benzema felt good on April 6th, the most feasible question to ask would be how he has felt the entire season.
His form has reached astronomical heights and has left many discussing whether he is currently the best player in the world.
He is on the cusp of having a historic season.
Benzema currently has recorded 44 goals and 15 assists in all competitions. In La Liga, he has notched 27 goals and 12 assists thus far. Ousmane Dembelé is currently leading the league with 13 assists, but Benzema was leading the league earlier this season for this particular statistic. If Benzema was able to regain the lead and end the season with more goals and assists than any other player in La Liga, he would only be the second player to accomplish such a feat in Spanish football since the 2006-2007 season.
The only other player to pull off this feat was Lionel Messi in the 2019-2020 season. Additionally, Real Madrid have secured a LaLiga league title.
Not even Lionel Messi in all his glory was able to secure a league title in the 2019-2020 season.
Also, Real Madrid is now in the final of the Champions League. Benzema has been instrumental in guiding Madrid through the competition. A Champions League win could cement this season a legendary individual season.
What have been the driving forces behind a season that could end up as one of the most iconic seasons a forward has ever put together in world football?
Simply put, Karim Benzema’s game has a little bit of everything. His influence within the club has grown the last three years since Cristiano Ronaldo departed. This season, that influence has been abundantly clear. He is a forward that is adept in every area of his game. His link up play has provided benefits to the team as he can be used as a focal point of attack. According to the Analyst.com, Benzema is averaging 53 touches and receiving 40 passes per 90 minutes in La Liga fixtures. Those numbers are the highest averages ever totaled throughout his Real Madrid career. His ability to drop deep or get behind defenses gives Madrid multiple options in the build up of the attack on a repeated basis.
The unpredictable, incisive, and intelligent movement the Frenchman exhibits has been a pivotal factor in some of the goals he has scored this campaign. In the 18-yard-box, he understands when to halt his movement to pull away from defenders and when to sneak past the defender’s back shoulder. For example, look at Benzema’s goal in the second leg of the Champions League quarter final against Chelsea. This video explains how his clever movement in the box frees up space for him to finish his header.
His runs from deeper positions can hurt the opposition as well. Take a look at the goals he scored on April 6th in the first leg of the Champions League matchup against Chelsea. He demonstrates clever link up play with Toni Kroos and Vinicius Jr. Then, he makes a darting run into space where Vinicius Jr. was able to pick him out for a cross.
His goal scoring prowess is relatively unparalleled. Benzema has become a lethal finisher throughout the latter stages of his prime. Close-range finishes, tap-ins, volleys, curled efforts, and his headers are executed to perfection in and around the box. The level of composure he exhibits in front of goal is mesmerizing. Take a look at this exquisite volley against Atlético Madrid.
Another sensational finish Benzema pulled off was his goal in a La Liga encounter against Athletic Bilbao. He generated a surreal amount of power on his curled effort. It was an absolutely breathtaking goal.
In the Champions League, Benzema has become the fourth player to ever record back-to-back hat tricks. The first of those aforementioned hat tricks would be the three goals he scored in 17 minutes to eradicate Paris Saint Germain’s two-goal-lead and the Parisians’ hopes of winning the tie. It will likely be remembered as one of the most iconic nights in the Bernabeu. And, one of the most damning nights in PSG’ history. PSG surrendered another critical lead in their ongoing drought to secure a Champions League title. Madrid looked destined to be heading out of the competition and within a little over a quarter of an hour they were leading the tie. The third goal may end up being the most memorable and shows Benzema’s instinctive nature as a striker. A quickfire snapshot that trickled past PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donarumma. It was an instinctual finish that took advantage of an impromptu chance that appeared seemingly out of nothing.
This ruthless element Benzema has shown in his games this season has been the headlining factor of his brilliance. It appears that over the past few years Benzema is finally getting the recognition, respect, and admiration he deserves for his current level of play. After signing with Real Madrid in 2009, there were several years where some fans or pundits have questioned whether he should be Real Madrid’s first choice center forward. Five years ago, Benzema only scored five goals in Madrid’s 2017-18 La Liga campaign.
That season, Gary Lineker, an English pundit for BBC, took to Twitter to question whether Benzema is overrated. Lineker went on to remark that Benzema was “rescued” by Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals.
Compelled to now give credit where it is due, on March 9th, 2022, Lineker tweeted Benzema is “indisputably” one of the greatest center forwards of all time.
This change in sentiment is a testament to how Ronaldo’s departure has increased the influence of Karim Benzema on the team. For vast stretches of Ronaldo’s career, Karim Benzema would be forced to drop deeper to link up Ronaldo. His role was to support Ronaldo, who normally was deployed as a left winger. This positioning ended up taking Benzema a little further away from goal as he regularly looked to provide himself as a passing option for Ronaldo.
Now, Benzema is the focal point. He chooses when to drop deeper into the midfield and when to get closer towards the goal. Every season since the 2017/18 season, Benzema has scored over 20 goals in La Liga. Previous criticism has now turned to plaudits on his goals and all around team play.
This season could be the defining in determining his legacy as possibly one the best forwards to ever play for Real Madrid and maybe even winning a Ballon d’Or trophy.
These are discussions few thought we would be having five years ago.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Dakwa holds a BS in Journalism from Elon University. He writes about European football for L.A. Soccer Press. Follow him at @JDakwa on Twitter.