Amidst the criticism striker Karim Benzema continually faces in the Spanish media, ISF Real Madrid correspondent Alex Kirkland takes a more balanced view, looking at what the Frenchman brings to the side, beyond putting the ball into the back of the net.
Carlo Ancelotti knows. “Sometimes it’s better to pass than to score.” Karim Benzema will always have his detractors – his strike rate not good enough for some, his body language the issue for others – but for his coach, the man who matters, his quality is self-evident.
Benzema is a fundamental, forever underrated element of this Real Madrid forward line. As Cristiano Ronaldo ascends to increasingly improbable levels of excellence, as Gareth Bale illuminates games with moments of explosive pace and power, the French number nine remains the cog at the heart of this well-oiled machine.
Real Madrid’s last three matches serve as a case study in what it means to be this club’s first choice striker, for good and bad. In two of them Benzema started, played a key part in their defining moments – but didn’t score. In the other he was rested and the team scored five. It’s never a helpful scenario for a centre forward. Cristiano Ronaldo took that role against Elche, alongside Bale in a 4-4-2, and helped himself to four goals. More questions followed about Benzema’s place in the side.
Consider though the games that came either side of that win at the Bernabéu. For an hour last weekend in La Coruña, Benzema was the best player on the pitch. He was everywhere, leading the line with an exemplary display of intelligent forward movement. On 36 minutes he dropped towards the halfway line, spun and sprinted into space down the left, before passing for James Rodríguez to score. Five minutes later he was bursting through the middle, brought down by the onrushing keeper before Cristiano Ronaldo swept home Madrid’s third. His work done, the Frenchman was withdrawn.
On to El Madrigal, and again, Benzema provided the game’s decisive moment. A lively, inventive Villarreal side were 1-0 down but pushing for an equaliser when James Rodríguez won the ball. Benzema didn’t hesitate. Racing upfield to latch onto the Colombian’s pass, he needed just three touches to kill the game. His first headed the ball onwards into the box; his second wrongfooted the defender and stopped the ball dead; his third was a pass straight to the feet of Cristiano Ronaldo, who did the rest. The French striker at his best: pure economy of movement and control.
His manager, Carlo Ancelotti, didn’t play down the Frenchman’s involvement in the win either.
“The key to the match was the second goal and Karim was too late to take a chance and he passed the ball to Cristiano. He played a great game, even though he didn’t score. Sometimes it’s better to pass than score.”
Ronaldo ran, pointing, straight to Benzema. And that’s the key. Ask his teammates, and they’ll tell you just how much they enjoy playing with him. It’s a team full of goals, and more of them will come with the Frenchman as a focal point up front. The BC just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
This article was originally published here.