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Karim Versus Benzema: The Evolution of Real Madrid’s Striker

RC Celta v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

Karim Benzema has been in searing hot form scoring eight goals in his last six games — his best goalscoring streak as a Real Madrid player — highlighting his offensive prowess. The striker’s production has risen to new levels since 2018 coinciding with the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. The talisman’s transfer to Juventus meant Benzema was given the keys to offense with the liberty and responsibility to lead the front line and be the main attacking option.

Benzema has relished the opportunity and has been impressive and dominant in the three seasons since (2018-19 was plagued with misfortune and a carousel of coaches so 2019-20 is truly when Benzema began to unquestionably flourish). The added context regarding Real Madrid’s continued stagnation and lack of fluidity in the offensive third means his contributions have carried an extra weight.

That aside however, the raw stats speak for themselves. Benzema has easily outmatched his contributions in terms of goals and assist since the end of the 2017-18 season. After Ronaldo’s transfer, Benzema has now contributed to 107 goals (including assists) in 133 appearances compared to 84 in 131 in the three seasons before that. While his increased material influence on the scoreboard is evident, it is also interesting to note that outside of a recent burst and uptick, Benzema was somewhat maintaining a similar trend even prior to Ronaldo’s transfer.

Despite Benzema’s overwhelming contributions to the current version of Los Blancos, comparing the Frenchman’s output to the previous primary attacker by looking at Ronaldo’s last three seasons with the team shows just how otherworldly the latter was.

Ronaldo contributed to a mindboggling 171 goals (!) in his last 138 games which culminated in the 2018 Champions League. While Ronaldo’s superiority is known, many will often validly point to penalties as being a key differentiating element that favours him over Benzema as Ramos is the current designated penalty taker. Looking at rough numbers, Ramos has scored approximately 18 penalties since Ronaldo left while the Portuguese scored approximately 21 penalties over the three season stretch included. Even accounting for penalties, Ronaldo’s level was simply unmatched.

Lastly, to highlight both Benzema’s “improvement” — as scoring more is not purely a function of playing better but perhaps adapting to a different role — we can take a look at performances without goals and assists. Prior to the Ronaldo transfer, Benzema recorded 73 games without registering a goal / assist which have now decreased to 61 to date.

Ronaldo — thanks to his greatness and taking penalties which could have been an advantage — recorded zero goals / assists in only 46 games. However, the stat that truly captures Benzema’s evolution offensively is that he has nearly doubled his contributions to total team goals (42% compared to 24%) since Ronaldo’s transfer — which is almost as high as the five time Ballon d’Or winner’s contribution in his last three seasons.

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