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Karim Benzema Playing His Best Football

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The oft-beleaguered striker is proving his worth and belongs at Real Madrid.

Denis Doyle

To say that Karim Benzema is a polarizing figure among Real Madrid fans would be an understatement. There appear to be three camps regarding Big Benz: 1. he's worthy of being RM's starting striker, 2. he is RM-worthy but should have another striker of equal or greater quality to continuously push him and 3. replace him, he's in over his head with this club and they can do better.

I am of the first camp. I believe that Benz should not only stay at the club, but that he should be the first choice striker and that they do not need to bring in another elite #9 for Benz to compete with. As we're in the middle of a transfer window and since Wayne Rooney's name just popped up as a potential target, I thought we should take a look at Benz's season so far relative to his peers.

First off, we need to establish who Benz's top peers are and who are viable alternatives for RM to pursue/compare Benz with. Robert Lewandowski is out, he's joining Bayern. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is very expensive and has stated that PSG is his last big European club. Edinson Cavani appears to be content as well and not likely to move. Robin van Persie is 30 and a walking injury. Falcao blew out his knee and is out for six months so I doubt he's coming. Jackson Martinez and Julian Draxler have been mentioned but it appears that other clubs are more likely to be their suitors. That really only leaves Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney as the plausible options.

Secondly, let's take a look at Benz's performance this season. When it comes to simple goals and assists numbers, he has 10 goals and five assists in 17 league games, two goals and three assists in 5 Champions League play and two goals and no assists in two Copa del Rey games. In total, 14 goals and 8 assists in 24 matches. When you look at the goals he's scored, you'll notice that he's scored the goal which tied a game one time and a goal which took the permanent lead for RM/gave it enough goals to win five times (in simple terms: five game-winning goals this season). Certainly in some of those matches others scored and RM won by a more than one goal differential, but it was his goals which secured the critical goal needed to maintain the advantage.

Below is a comparison of Benz, Suarez, Aguero and Rooney in some simple categories (click to enlarge). I would use even more advanced numbers/positioning charts but those are either hard to come by or take a very long time to put together.

Stats_medium

As you can see, Suarez is having a pretty fantastic year and is definitely making the case that he's the best, or at least the most in-form, striker in the world. Aside from minutes played and the (in my opinion) criminally low amount of shots Benz takes, many of his numbers are right in line with his peers. The key thing to keep in mind is that Benz is the third offensive choice at Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo is by far the alpha male and, when healthy, Gareth Bale will be second in line. This leaves Benz to fight for the scraps with the likes of ADM, Isco, etc. At the other clubs. Suarez is by far the focal point, Aguero has competition but is still the head marksman and Rooney doesn't have RVP to help him carry that sinking ship so he's getting most of the chances.

That's not to say that Benz can't improve his own game. His shot accuracy is too low, he needs to be more combative in duels, he drops back to compete for the ball in order to set up plays but then is averse to going in the box and being caught offside is a real problem for him. However, the gulf between him and those who are considered to be mouth-watering options for Madrid is not vast and, in some cases, Benz has the edge. When you factor in that Suarez will likely cost 90m+ and Aguero at least 50m, Rooney becomes the only "affordable" option but he's got injury and age concerns of his own. Should Madrid acquire one of these strikers, they'll have to come to grips that they won't be the number one option anymore and might drop down to as low as third, thus their numbers will likely decrease to an extent and their scoring totals will be more in line with Benz's so far.

Because of this, I do not see a reason why a top-tier striker needs to be brought in this winter or next summer. Of course, everything could change with an injury or a drastic drop in form, but Benz is already on pace to beat last season's numbers and we're only roughly halfway through the season. If Madrid want to bring in a competent back-up to spell Benz and mentor Morata then that's fine, but Benz is doing a very good job holding his own.