Real Madrid vs Chelsea, Champions League reaction: Brilliant Karim Benzema is better than ever at 33
Karim Benzema isn’t just enjoying an Indian summer, he’s playing the best football of his career at the age of 33. And the Frenchman’s enduring quality was on full display once more in the Champions League semi-final first leg against Chelsea, with his brilliant equaliser keeping Real Madrid very firmly in the tie.
It's a matter for the chairman - Zidane deflects Super League questions
It was a moment of pure class from Karim Benzema. The first touch, softly cushioned off his head, gave him just enough time to unfurl a scissor-volley past a helpless Edouard Mendy, drawing Real Madrid level.
Yet again it was Real’s centre-forward bailing them out in a season where he has been far and away the club’s biggest attacking threat. And you wouldn’t bet against him doing something special again at Stamford Bridge in the second leg, such is the form he’s in.
“He’s a top, top striker, he’s got everything,” said a gushing Rio Ferdinand in the BT Sport studio after Real’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea on Tuesday night. And while Ferdinand’s comments are clearly accurate, it was unusual to hear Benzema so openly praised – because so often during his long career, the Frenchman has played second (or even) third fiddle. Always the bridesmaid, this time the bride?
Benzema’s brilliant goal was his 27th of the season, making this already one of the most prolific campaigns of his career. But never before have his goals been so valuable. The next highest scorer for Zinedine Zidane’s side this season is Vinicius Junior with six goals. Even in the most dominant days of Cristiano Ronaldo there was more goalscoring support around him than that. But with under a month left of the season and both the La Liga and Champions League titles very much in play, Real Madrid have Benzema to thank for getting them into this position.
“He's such an important player for us, for our game, not only scoring goals, but helping bring so many others into play,” Zidane said last week after another Benzema brace earned Real a win over Cadiz that temporarily sent them top of La Liga.
“He's so important for getting in between the lines, and he can be found so easily. And then when he scores too, perfect.”
In Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Chelsea it was Benzema who consistently looked the likeliest to do something for Real Madrid, even ignoring his brilliant piece of individual skill for the goal.
But that goal is hard to ignore. With it, Benzema moved level with Raul in the all-time Champions League goalscoring charts with 71, just two behind Robert Lewandowski and with only Ronaldo and Lionel Messi beyond (albeit by a long way).
When the curtain falls on Benzema’s astonishing career he will surely go down as one of the best strikers in Real Madrid’s illustrious history. He now has 277 goals for the club, the fifth highest ever, scored at a rate of one every other game – quicker than the revered Raul.
But Benzema isn’t all about goals. As Zidane said, so much of his quality is about bringing others into play, something that Cristiano Ronaldo benefited from enormously during the pair’s nine years together at the Bernabeu.
It is no coincidence that three of Benzema’s five most prolific seasons as a Real Madrid player have come since Ronaldo’s departure. In fact, since then, Benzema has banged at least 20 league goals in all three campaigns for the club, finishing as Real’s main goalscorer in each of those seasons.
Karim Benzema of Real Madrid looks on during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final First Leg match between Real Madrid and Chelsea FC at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on April 27, 2021 in Madrid
Image credit: Getty Images
With age beginning to creep up on him, there have been rumours that the 33-year-old’s time as a regular feature in Real Madrid’s attack could be coming to an end.
But on the evidence of Tuesday night’s performance, and this season’s level as a whole, there is still an awful lot to come from Benzema as a Los Blancos starter. Zidane certainly agrees, telling reporters this week that: “I really hope Real Madrid can continue enjoying him a lot longer”.
And you can see the logic. Even if Florentino Perez were to recover from his Super League disappointment to pull off the transfer of Kylian Mbappe this summer, who better for the Frenchman to play alongside than his compatriot Benzema.
You can almost see it already: “Here’s Benzema, lovely bit of skill, lays it off to… MBAPPE!”.
But that hypothetical is very much in the future. Right now it’s Benzema’s time to be the main man, and he deserves every single second in the spotlight.