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Who should Real Madrid target this summer to replace Karim Benzema?

In a saturated market where world-class strikers are hard to come by, Matt Wiltse evaluates potential transfer targets for Real Madrid that could look to replace Karim Benzema and provide a stop-gap for Endrick to mature.

Real Betis v Real Madrid CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Karim Benzema played over 3,900 minutes last season. The threshold before major burn-out or injury occurs is usually ~3,500 minutes. The Frenchman has been unable to replicate his Ballon d’Or form, and the drop-off this season largely can be attributed to injuries. All of his injuries have been muscular (a re-occurring quad issue), which has forced him to miss 13 games for Real Madrid and the World Cup with France. The captain is again a doubt this weekend heading into the Espanyol game with more muscle fatigue.

I have been vocal on the Managing Madrid podcast in my defense of Benzema. It is hard for me to believe that the same player that scored 44 goals and contributed 15 assists last year suddenly fell off a cliff. The four month period when the season ended in May, to when Benzema returned in September, saw him suddenly lose his powers and face a rapid decline? Yes, players decline with age and the physical tole of the 2021-2022 season was excruciating but the question comes to mind: if Benzema had a summer to recoup and a took part in proper pre-season this upcoming summer, would he operate back at his highest level? Or has he reached the pinnacle of his career and next season at 36-years-old becomes a step too far to try and recover that form? Does age mean these physical issues persists and never subside?

It feels like the board wanted to gamble this summer after being scarred by the Jovic and Mariano transfers. The gamble was that Benzema, coming off the season of his life, could keep going until 2024 — sustaining the same amount of minutes and contributing around 30 goals a season. By the summer of 2024, he could sheppard young Endrick into the side. I have written about why fast-tracking Endrick with lofty expectations at 18-years-old is not the answer. At the end of the day, Madrid need an interim, three to four year, solution for the center forward position. There is no way of knowing if Benzema will return to his best for next season and the club should not take that gamble again. The problem? There is a dearth of options for center forwards in the current market, but Madrid will need to get creative.

Mariano’s contract expires this summer and expectation given Ancelotti’s quotes is that Alvaro will be promoted to the first-team. The Spanish-Uruguayan striker will still only be 19-years-old next season and his numbers for Castilla this year are far from prolific, scoring 5 goals in 15 appearances. The lanky teenager brings more than just goals, but would be another massive gamble from the club to rely on just he and Benzema. Madrid’s captain is so unique that there is no like-for-like replacement in the market. Putting aside the Kylian Mbappe rumors (yes, it is time to move on), who could Real Madrid realistically look to attain this summer?

Julian Alvarez

The World-Cup winning Argentinean striker has found himself as Erling Haaland’s back-up at Manchester City. For City, despite mostly coming off the bench, he has a combined 13 G/A - (10) goals and (3) in 1,500 minutes or roughly 16.5 full 90 minute matches. He scored 4 goals for Argentina at the World Cup, earning a starting birth over Lautaro Martinez. He stood out for his insane work-rate off the ball, pressing and hounding opposition defenders. He ranks 99th percentile for tackles won in the attacking third vs other forwards. He is a player that would allow Madrid to play a more aggressive style of football and is a quality finisher — consistently out-performing his xG. He is no stranger to the city of Madrid or the club, as he was on trial to join the Real Madrid academy as a teenager. He opted to stay in Argentina, but the links have always remained. At 23-years-old, Alvarez is a player profile and age profile that fits Madrid’s needs.

Kai Havertz

If certain reports from Spanish media are to be believed, than Kai Havertz may well have become a Real Madrid player, rather than a Chelsea player, had the pandemic never occurred and ravaged the club’s finances. The left-footed 23-year-old German has had an up and down career at Chelsea playing as a number nine. His best position is behind a striker, but has predominantly played as a center forward for Tuchel and Potter. From a goal in the UEFA Champions League final to being blamed for Chelsea’s lack of goals in more recent matches, Havertz often divides Chelsea fans opinions. If placed in the proper context and given the right role, Havertz could be the type of player to free Vinicius Junior and alternate with Rodrygo Goes shifting from the striker position to an inverted winger. The German has been on the club’s radar before and may be an option they explore again as Chelsea will have to balance their books for FFP purposes this summer.

Amine Gouiri

Gouiri’s game is stylistically the most similar to Benzema. He is a facilitator and a creator more so than a lethal goal-scoring. He made his debut with Lyon at 17-years-old and has made progressive, sensible transfer moves over the last few seasons to Nice and Rennes. He has yet to break the 15-goal barrier over his five seasons in France, but looks on track this season having registered 9 in 1,500 minutes . Again, it is the creative metrics where he stands out — 90th percentile in shot-creating actions, 82nd in progressive carries, and 77th in progressive passes as well as expected assists. At €40 million valuation, the 23-year-old French/Algerian is an attainable target, but questions will arise over his goal-scoring figures.

Pedro Guilherme

Pedro Guilherme is another target that in an alternate universe would already be a Real Madrid player. In 2019, a €30 million deal was agreed with Fluminense for the striker’s services, according to his agent: “We had reached an agreement with Madrid, we just needed to sign, we had already talked with the family and with Fluminense,” said Pedro’s representative, Marcio Giugni on the Esporte Espetacular program of Rede Globo. The deal fell apart after the then 21-year-old suffered an ACL injury ruling him out for 7 months. The player has bounced back from that career set-back, scoring 39 goals and 12 assists (51 G/A total) in 69 games over the last two seasons with Flamengo. His good form was rewarded with a surprise inclusion in Tite’s 25-man Brazil squad for the World Cup. Transfermrkt values the 25-year-old player at €20 million, a valuation that could turn into a low-risk stop-gap transfer for the club.

Goncalo Ramos

Folklore has already been passed around by those in Benfica circles regarding Goncalo Ramos. When an Benfica executive was congratulated on the big transfer sum acquired for Darwin Nunez, his response was reportedly as follows: “just wait, there is an even bigger talent coming through our academy”. The reference was to 21-year-old Gonaclo Ramos, who will be no stranger to fans after his four goal cameo replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup. Goncalo Ramos is a completely different player to Benzema. He is a poacher, a pure goal-scorer, and more of an “old-school” number nine. All of his work is completed inside the box. He is not much of a facilitator, or a creator, or a pressing machine — he simply scores goals. He ranks in the 93rd percentile for goals scored per 90 — nearly scoring a goal per game and his non-penalty xG per 90 minutes ranks in the 98th percentile. He has a high shot volume (average of 4 per game) and usually gets those shots on target. He has scored 23 goals and contributed 9 assist in just under 2,500 minutes ( equivalent to 27 full matches). He is an end-production machine, but will help little in build-up nor defensively.

Other names like Harry Kane and Victor Osimhen have been suggested by fans and pundits (I.E. Guti), but the total transfer package + wages for both players will likely far exceed €100 million. Those types of figures would likely deter Madrid, especially if Benzema stays on with the club until 2024. Richarlison and Vlahovic have been reported as targets by ESPN, but neither have impressed with their current teams and would demand large transfer fees as well as wages. The above names fall under reasonably priced targets, sustainable wages, and within the desired age profile (21 years old — 25-years-old). Each have their own risk and arguably none of those names are world-class superstars but each have enough quality and potential upside to improve the squad.

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