Around this time two years ago, Karim Benzema missed no less than four clear cut chances against Valencia. The game finished 2-2, Benzema’s performance the subject of much criticism and degradation.
That player we saw in 2017 is quite the contrast to the current version of Karim Benzema, a confident finisher that looks set to lead the club’s attack again this season, having scored his third and fourth league goals in as many games against Levante on Saturday.
Though much has changed with Benzema in the last two years, we shouldn’t be surprised to see this version of the forward. The 2017/18 season was a really bad one for Karim in front of net, but it has overly warped fan’s perception on his finishing ability. In reality, Big Benz has been posting numbers like he did last year for most of his career at the Spanish capital. Last season was the seventh time in ten years that Benzema has hit 30 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid. He is currently the club’s fifth all time top goalscorer and its third highest in European competition.
Placed in any other era of the club’s history, Benzema’s goal-scoring exploits would be celebrated, but since the Frenchman had the misfortune of playing in an era where 50 to 60 goals a season is possible, his record goes under the radar.
While acknowledging his excellent track record, one can also say that Benzema’s current goal-scoring run is usual even. The 31-year-old, though prolific across a season, generally only posts modest totals in each competition with last season being just the third time he has hit 20 La Liga goals in one campaign.
This uplift in goal scoring has largely been in response to the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer. The Portuguese star left a goals and shots void in the Real Madrid squad which Karim Benzema and his teammates were expected to fill. However, the Frenchman was the only one who truly attempted to step up to the mantle and this is reflected in his numbers.
His 21 league goals was his second best haul for the club, tied with 2011/2012 and three off his outright best tally from 2015/16. The Frenchman took 2.9 shots per90 in the league last season, the most he has taken since 2015/16. He also over-performed his xG last season by 2.33, another first since 2015/16.
Benzema’s shots inside the area has also risen. Benz took 2.3 shots per90 from inside the penalty area in La Liga last season, a massive jump from the 1.6 he registered the two seasons before and the highest since (you guessed it) 2015/16.
Though Ronaldo’s absence has surely played a part in Benzema’s increased presence inside the box, it would take credit away from Karim to claim that this was the only factor. Benzema outperformed his xG inside the penalty area by a stunning 4.12 last season. Among Europe’s golden shoe contenders, only Sadio Mane (7.64) and Lionel Messi (7.69) can boast a higher over-performance with hardly anyone else coming close
Such performances could only be achieved by a player, not only of the highest pedigree, but also one that has embraced his new role within the team. Benzema has made clear in several public appearances the lack of value he attaches to goals and his preferred role within the team. If the Frenchman had his way, he probably wouldn’t want to be the man Madrid were depending on to score goals and yet, as he has done so often over the last decade, Benzema is willing to change and adapt his own individual pursuits for the better of the collective.