Karim Benzema: Possible end of the road?
It’s been an enduring start to the season for Real Madrid, the Champions League, and La Liga holders have faltered too often this season, much to the ire of their fans and to the perplexation of a majority of the footballing World. Zinedine Zidane, who a few months ago, didn't look like he could do anything wrong, has now all of a sudden been inviting criticism from all ends.
While there have been demerits all over the pitch for Los Blancos, a large chunk of it though, have been the insufficiencies in front of goal. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have both had horrible starts to the season and been badly misfiring in the La Liga this season.
The criticism amongst the two, though, has come more in the way of the Frenchman. Benzema has so far scored five goals this season, with only two of them coming in La Liga this season. A poor record, if you’re the number nine for Real Madrid, and also looking to prove a point to the French national team manager.
To be fair to the Frenchman, Benzema has had a difficult start to the season. Bad misses, injuries, spectacular saves, one can name it and could well end up relating it to the Frenchman in one way or the other.
The start, however, wasn’t that bad, Benzema scored at the Bernabeu and put on a good display off the ball helping Real Madrid beat Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate over two legs. The Supercopa display was followed by a decent outing against Deportivo La Coruna.
Things, however, began to change after that. Benzema was on the verge of equaling Gento’s record to become the seventh name on the all-time scoring charts. Things though didn’t exactly go as most might have thought them too. Benzema and Real came face to face with a determined Neto in the Valencia goal.
The chances were aplenty and on any given day of the year, you’d expect a world-class striker to take those chances, but Benzema didn’t. The Bernabeu‘s response was not quite welcoming, and Madrid were held to an exciting 2-2 at home against a good Valencia side.
The frustration, pretty evidently, was not yet concrete and the Real Madrid hierarchy backed Benzema and the side to bounce back from the below-par draw against Valencia.
Levante seemed like a good fixture to play for Benzema and Real Madrid, alike, to perhaps get back on the right track. Things, though, were not too different from what they were against the big side from Valencia.
Benzema, adding on to what had already been a frustrating week, went off injured early in the game, meaning that Real’s worst fears about an established second striker were coming back to haunt them. Levante held on for a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, infuriating the Real Madrid faithful in the process.
An injury that not only kept Benzema out for a month but also dented his confidence and goal creating and scoring ability of one of the biggest clubs in the world. Which, as a matter of fact, is surprising that a club of such stature, could miss out on an established back-up for Benzema when they're aiming to fight on all fronts.
Lack of pressure perhaps?
One of the main reasons why Benzema has encountered criticism of such proportions this season has perhaps been due to him being the only proper established number nine. Zidane, early on in the season, decided on using Ronaldo as the backup option for Benzema and a young and inexperienced Mayoral as the third option.
While Ronaldo as a lone striker upfront will always be up for debate and Mayoral, despite his talent and ability, in all fairness, doesn’t yet look ready for the first team. An established like for like back-up usually provides competition, which is supposed to get the best out of the starters.
Benzema, over the years, has seemed to be the player who thrives when he knows he’s got a sense of competition within the squad. In two of Benzema’s best seasons - 2011-12 and 2016-17 - he had quality strikers like Gonzalo Higuain and Alvaro Morata, respectively, pushing him for a first-team spot.
Something that worked not just for the player but for the team as well, as Real ended up winning the league in both those seasons.
Benzema remains a confidence player, someone who feeds of the confidence of the entire side and is someone, who has, over the course of his Real career, pulled out moments that has lifted the side from tough situations.
A comeback goal against Getafe seemed like the perfect boost the Frenchman needed and while one would not exactly associate Benzema with scoring tons of goals, goals are the deciding factor when it comes to winning football matches.
Benzema loses to Kane?
While his link-up play and off the ball movements remain vital for Real Madrid his lack of desire almost in front of goal has been disappointing. Against Tottenham, in the Champions League, Benzema to his misfortune once again came up against an inspired goalkeeper, this time in his countryman Hugo Lloris.
Saves that were quite spectacular and otherwise would have been certain goals. Goals that would have altered record books as well as opinions around the world. The game against Tottenham, coincidentally touted as Harry Kane’s audition for Real Madrid, if anything, only complicated things for the Frenchman.
Kane, in this short battle, did come out the better looking forward of the two and it’ll be no surprise to anyone if Real Madrid were to go for him in the summer. What does that do for Benzema at Madrid then?
Does he stay and play on, as perhaps, the second choice striker, or does he move on? Having remained a President-favorite and an untouchable of sorts, Benzema’s situation at the club might just have begun to get a bit more complicated than what the striker has been used to over the past six-seven seasons.
End of the road?
While recent goals against Apoel and Malaga could help his confidence, how much it affects his future at the club, is a different story altogether.
For someone who had a pretty ordinary first year at the club, Benzema has managed to turn it around very well. Often termed “Fat and Lazy”, Benzema has worked hard to make the number nine shirt at Real his own. From going to a high-performance clinic for weight training, in Italy, to doing the extra finishing sessions with Zidane.
Benzema has always tried to match to the level expected of him. Perhaps the reason why the Frenchman, despite often going under the radar, has managed to outlast the likes of Van Nistelrooy, Gonzalo Higuain, and Alvaro Morata.
Add to that the plethora of some big managerial names of Manuel Pellegrini, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane.
For a striker who has completed over eight seasons at one of the most demanding footballing clubs in the world, murmurs of him being overrated might be unfortunate, to say the least.
Benzema is Real Madrid’s rare asset - someone who might not necessarily have the star impact like a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Sergio Ramos but certainly remains vital to the Real Madrid juggernaut.
All things said, Benzema will have to build on the recent scores against Apoel and Malaga if he is to consolidate himself once more, amongst the storm of rumours that could possibly end up unsettling him.
Are we, perhaps, seeing the last of Karim Benzema in a Real Madrid shirt this season? Only time will tell.