Juventus can’t win the Champions League with Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid can’t seem to win without him, but now Zinedine Zidane’s side are into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2018, the Spanish club will be relying on one man if they are to go the distance.
A club needing their main striker to progress in a tournament is hardly headline worthy, but Real’s over-reliance on Karim Benzema should not be understated.
On Tuesday night, it was his first-half goal against Atalanta which set Real on their way to a 4-1 aggregate victory over the Serie A club
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After Luka Modric’s masterful no-look pass was met with a simple stroke from Benzema’s right foot, the flurry of stats followed:
- This was Benzema’s 70th Champions League goal, making him only the fifth player to reach this landmark after Ronaldo (134), Lionel Messi (120), Robert Lewandowski (72) and Raul (71).
- This was Benzema’s sixth goal in his last five matches, having scored in each appearance and twice in the crucial victory over Elche on the weekend.
- This was Benzema’s 21st goal of the season, and that is 15 more than any other Real player so far this season. Casemiro is second with six.
The last of those hat-trick of stats is perhaps the most alarming, or impressive, depending on which way you look at it. Real need Benzema, they have been dependent on him since Ronaldo left, but when fit he has delivered, proving inspirational in their league title win last season.
This term, he has not gone more than three league games with a goal, and he has scored in all-but two of his Champions League appearances so far too. When he plays, quite simply, Real are better.
But of course, one man alone cannot win the Champions League. Favourites Manchester City and Bayern Munich both have teams packed with superstars, and if they are kept apart in Friday’s draw they could well be destined to collide in the final on May 29.
However, like Liverpool, so long as Real remain in the competition, they will remain part of the conversation. They may not be reaching the heights that saw them win four Champions League titles in five years, but with Benzema in this form they have a fighting chance.
He does, however, need a helping hand up front. To have scored 15 more goals than any other Real player is something that needs addressing, and should they end the season empty-handed that will be the main reason why.
Perhaps, then, that is where Sergio Ramos comes in. The defender scored his 101st goal for Real to put the tie beyond doubt on Tuesday, and while his return from a torn meniscus is being carefully managed by Zidane, it should not be long before he is playing the full 90 minutes again after two matches around the hour-mark.
Benzema and Ramos makes for a different story, and with the assisting Modric to boot – a core that remains from their glory years of not so long ago – then Benzema could well get the assistance he and Real so badly need.
With that trio, a 14th European Cup could just be possible. It would be foolish to rule them out.
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