Benzema has forgotten how to be a striker: Rik Sharma(opinion)
With Ronaldo gone and Bale injured, Benzema has forgotten how to play as the main striker, Spanish football writer, Rik Sharma says.
They say actions lead to habits and habits form character. Over the past two years, Karim Benzema has provided excellent support for superstar duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
Now, with the Portuguese hitman gone and the Welsh winger injured, Benzema has been asked to play the role of Real Madrid’s leading man. Worryingly, he seems to have forgotten his lines. Benzema doesn’t seem to remember how to play as a main striker.
It has left los Blancos firing blanks in their past four matches, without a goal in nearly seven hours of play.
Benzema has not scored in seven appearances and although he forced Fernando Pacheco into a save in Madrid’s 1-0 defeat by Alaves on October 6, in the six previous games he did not manage a single shot on target – an appalling statistic for any forward, let alone an undisputed starter for arguably the biggest club in the world.
However, the 30-year-old, who notched four goals in two league games at the start of the season, is not entirely to blame for his own malaise. He was conditioned over the course of several seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu to become increasingly subservient; to put the team’s goals before his own.
Under Carlo Ancelotti the Frenchman’s game morphed from central striker to a more fluid role in which he was tasked with moving freely around the final third in order to create more space and opportunities for his illustrious attacking partners.
At his peak, in 2014, Benzema was the glue that held the BBC strike-force together, offering goals and assists in equal measure.
“He is very important for us, not only because he scores, but because we can ask different things of him sometimes,” Ancelotti enthused at the time.
“Sometimes, I ask him to slow things down a little and he does that well too. He is a very complete player.”
With Rafa Benitez taking over in 2015, the Spanish coach encouraged Benzema to become more selfish, telling him he had to deliver at least 20 goals.
Even though Benitez only lasted until January, Benzema obliged and hit a career-high 24 league goals, and Madrid went on to win the Champions League with Zinedine Zidane at the helm.
However, as Ancelotti’s former No.2, Benzema’s compatriot had seen first-hand what the Italian had extracted out of the French forward and wanted more of the same.
Zidane looked to Ronaldo for goals, so he essentially asked Benzema to become Cristiano’s assistant, the man tasked with aiding the Portuguese’s pursuit of one record after another.
It proved a successful strategy for Madrid, who went on to defend the Champions League title twice more, but everything changed this summer.
Ronaldo Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer, left for Juventus and Benzema watched Bale ascend to the throne. This was fine by him, as he could continue to play the foil to the main attacking threat.
With his early burst of goals – two against Girona and two against Leganes – it seemed like he was going to up his output to help account for Ronaldo’s departure. After all, he had only managed a pathetic five goals across the entire 2017-18 Liga campaign.
However, Bale suffered an injury at half-time of the derby clash with Atletico Madrid on September 29, and it essentially left Benzema as Madrid’s only striking option – bar summer signings Mariano Diaz and Vinicius Junior, neither of whom have yet earned the trust of new coach Julen Lopetegui.
Bale missed the 1-0 defeat by CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, which left Benzema looking lost without a star to play off.
Although the former Spurs ace returned for the Alaves defeat, he was below his best and Madrid never looked like ending their goal drought, with Benzema again caught adrift.
“When it comes to scoring goals, you go through spells,” said Lopetegui. “Benzema made a great start to the season, and now, just like the rest of the team, he’s not managing to find the net.
“With hard work and by keeping calm, we’ll get back on the goal trail. However, it’s not just down to Karim; it’s the whole team’s responsibility.”
While the former Spain coach has a point, with the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric not chipping in many goals from midfield, he could not explain why Benzema suddenly has a problem.
The man who once fought off Gonzalo Higuain to take the No.9 berth at the Bernabeu is no longer capable of taking centre stage. He has spent too much time toiling away in the background.
Benzema has previously argued that strikers in the modern game don’t always need to be frequent scorers.
“It depends how you see football,” he mused. “For me, goals aren’t everything. A modern forward has to have many other facets: passing, movement, goals and assists. I always think about the team and what I can bring.”
It’s not that Benzema is wrong but what his team needs now is goals and he doesn’t look like he can provide them.
The former France international is the joint-fourth top scorer in European Cup history, netting 56 goals for Lyon and Madrid, alongside another former Real player in Ruud van Nistelrooy, and trailing only Lionel Messi, Ronaldo and Raul.
He belongs among the elite but it might be too late for Lopetegui to coax the clinical goalscorer back out of Benzema.