Last week didn’t reflect so well on Karim Benzema. Unaware of the camera over his shoulder, the Frenchman was caught warning teammate Ferland Mendy not to pass to Vinicius Junior with Real Madrid trailing 2-0 to Borussia Monchengladbach at half time. “On my mother's life, he is playing against us,” he uttered to Mendy in French so Vinicius couldn’t understand what was being said about him.
For those within the game who have found Benzema a difficult character to work with (cough, Didier Deschamps, cough), such snide remarks surely didn’t come as much of a surprise. In the second half, though, the 32-year-old went on to demonstrate why he is such a unifying influence on the pitch, scoring the first goal of a comeback which saw Real Madrid salvage a 2-2 draw.
Until recently, the Spanish champions had struggled for firepower in the final third. Zinedine Zidane’s side drew a blank in games against Real Sociedad and Cadiz, also struggling to a less-than-convincing 1-0 home win over Real Valladolid. The poor form of Benzema was a point of discussion.
There is no elite level team in Europe as reliant on one player to spark their attack as Real Madrid are on Benzema. When he plays well, Los Blancos look a well-balanced side. It’s not just that Benzema provides Real Madrid with cutting edge in front of goal, it’s that he also gets the best out of others around him.
Karim Benzema of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his sides first goal with Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Group B stage match between Real Madrid and FC Internazionale at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano
Image credit: Getty Images
Without Benzema leading the line, Luka Modric doesn’t have a target to direct his creativity and drive towards. Without Benzema, Vinicius is frequently guilty of taking too much on himself, while Eden Hazard has forged a strong understanding with the French striker despite injury denying Zidane the chance to build his attack around the duo. As a spiritual leader, Sergio Ramos has to carry Real Madrid on his own.
Benzema was the difference between Barcelona and Real Madrid in the title race at the top of La Liga last season, with the 32-year-old enjoying his best goalscoring season for the club to date, finishing behind only Lionel Messi in the Pichichi standings. His 21 goals were enough to get Los Blancos over the line.
The €60 million signing of Luka Jovic from Eintracht Frankfurt last year was widely expected to ease the burden on Benzema at the Santiago Bernabeu. The Serbian should have given Zidane a rotation option and the tactical alternative to play two up front. Jovic, however, has barely featured for Real Madrid since signing. A January move away from the Spanish capital seems likely.
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Mariano Diaz is another striker who has barely been seen in a Real Madrid shirt recently. Zidane is a coach who has his favourites and nobody comes close to Benzema in his pecking order, to the point where the Frenchman has to play every minute of every game to maintain Real Madrid’s purpose and potency as a side.
Zidane has plenty to think about right now with Real Madrid’s form over the early part of the season too volatile to see them challenge for honours in both La Liga and the Champions League. Hazard’s lack of fitness continues to be a worry, as is the absence of Dani Carvajal through injury. But with Benzema back in form, back scoring goals again, he has one less thing to concern himself with.