Can Karim Benzema beat Lionel Messi to the Pichichi this year?
Karim Benzema has been at Real Madrid for over a decade now. Despite being the main striker of the team over this period, he was always second-fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo who was Los Blancos' attacking core.
Although the Frenchman was hitting respectable numbers for most strikers each season, they paled in comparison to his then-teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was regularly hitting between 50-60 goals a season. Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus in the Summer of 2018 and since then Benzema has been Los Blancos' main goal provider.
Whilst this did not go down too well last season, with many feeling Real Madrid had completely collapsed as a club following the departure of their greatest ever player, they have somewhat regrouped in the 2019/20 season and this is reflected by Benzema's form in front of goal.
Benzema currently sits just behind Lionel Messi in the goalscoring charts this season with 12 goals in 18 games in the Spanish top flight. Given Real Madrid's current form and Barcelona's loss of Luis Suarez, Benzema arguably hasn't had a better chance of winning the Pichichi than he does this season.
Though he had a minor drawback recently with a bruised leg, this seems to have been benign and he is training back with the full squad in preparation for Madrid's fixture against Sevilla. Messi may have a better goal-to-game ratio, but this isn't factored in at the end of the season when awarding the top goalscorer with the Pichichi.
The two questions are, of course, "Can Benzema maintain a good enough goalscoring form for the rest of the season?" and secondly, "Will Suarez's injury negatively impact Messi's goalscoring rate?"
Addressing the first question, in theory, Benzema can maintain a good enough goalscoring form for the rest of the season, but to do so, he will have to improve his conversion rate considerably going into the second half of the campaign.
Thus far, Benzema has scored 12 goals from 66 shots, compared to Messi's 13 in just 38. If this form continues, Messi will win the Pichichi for the 4th year in a row. Furthermore, only 53% of Benzema's shots have been on target, compared to Messi's superior 76%. Benzema is not short on shots on goal, but he does seem to have trouble with hitting them on target and this is something he will need to dramatically improve for the remainder of the season.
He may be a single goal behind Messi this season, however, Messi was injured at the start of the season and it begs the question of whether we could entertain Benzema as a contender for the Pichichi if he hadn't been. Nevertheless, Benzema does not need to concern himself with that and should instead capitalise on this fortune and try to win the Pichichi for the first time in his career.
The second question is what impact will Suarez's injury have on Messi's goalscoring form for the second half of the season? We could assume it would have a negative impact as losing such a big player is never positive.
However, Suarez's absence could force Messi to play in more of a striker's role and with it, could result in Messi scoring even more goals-per-game than he currently has done this season.
Barcelona has plenty of world-class players to make a position shift such as this happen, therefore, it cannot be ruled out as a possibility. Messi has already averaged almost a goal-per-game this season in La Liga and if he maintains or improves on that form, it will be hard for Benzema to keep up with him.
With this in mind, it is difficult to tell whether Benzema will win the Pichichi this year, as aforesaid he will have to improve his conversion rate dramatically if he has any chance and will probably need to rely on some poor form from Messi and Barcelona as well to create any kind of breathing space between the two of them.
It will be interesting to see if Benzema can do it, nevertheless, he will have to play the season of his career to do so.
Published 18 Jan 2020, 00:24 IST