Karim Benzema has come in for a lot of criticism already this season—much of it unfair.
With just two goals from eight matches in La Liga, the Frenchman has continually been overshadowed by the free-scoring Cristiano Ronaldo, energetic winger Angel Di Maria, playmaker Isco and even 20-year-old striker Alvaro Morata.
That it was Morata and not Benzema who pulled Madrid level away to Levante Saturday only increased the pressure on the former Lyon frontman. With the likelihood that Olivier Giroud will keep his place in the starting lineup for France in upcoming matches against Australia and Finland, it would seem as though Benzema is in the midst of the most trying period of his career to date.
On Saturday, the Mirror reported Real Madrid had made the striker available for around £17 million. Rumours that Liverpool’s Luis Suarez could be poised to replace Benzema at the Bernabeu have continued to pick up steam, as reported by Football-Espana.
But Benzema has continued to retain the support of his teammates for both club and country. As the France squad assembled at the start of the international break, several of them came out in support of the beleaguered 25-year-old.
FACT! Cristiano Ronaldo & Karim Benzema are the only players who've started every match for Real Madrid this season. pic.twitter.com/KHYD79GiKs— WeAreMadrid10 (@WeAreMadrid10) October 7, 2013
“He is a hard worker,” stated Madrid and France defender Raphael Varane, as recorded by Football-Espana. “I believe that he is fine physically. He is focused on his objectives.”
To which, according to Marca, Les Bleus and Monaco defender Eric Abidal added, “I’m sure Karim will get through his rough patch, but I don’t think benching him is the solution.”
Even Morata, whose heroics helped Los Blancos secure a 3-2 come-from-behind victory against Levante, praised his club teammate, telling Marca, “I know I have to work hard because I have one of the best strikers in the world ahead of me.”
A deeper look at Benzema’s statistics would seem to back up the Spain U-21 international.
Despite a lack of goals so far this term, Benzema has continued to influence the Madrid attack. And he has so far started every Primera Division and Champions League match under new manager Carlo Ancelotti.
In La Liga he has created 10 scoring chances for his teammates through eight matches. He has completed 77 percent of his passes—an unremarkable number until the location of them is brought into consideration.
With Ronaldo, Isco and Di Maria operating so closely behind him, Benzema often drifts deeper and out to the right to accommodate the trio, although the majority of his passes are still played in the high-risk area of the attacking third.
But it’s his movement that is particularly impressive.
Typically the longest-running Madrid player over the course of a match, Benzema combines work-rate with an unselfish, albeit incredibly necessary, approach to buildup play.
Given the presence of Ronaldo, he is rarely going to find himself on the receiving end of the final pass. But he will often play the crucial ball—whether in delivering a decisive pass with either of his feet or moving the ball along with a clever, and barely noticeable, flick.
He has been at his best in the Champions League this season and has so far scored two goals in two appearances while creating five chances and contributing two assists.
But while goals are nice, they’re not necessarily how he should be evaluated.
Given the nature of Madrid’s buildup play and the presence of an attacking, inward-moving winger on either side of him in addition to a playmaker in the hole, Benzema’s role is hardly that of the target-man in the Spanish capital.
Instead, he is the complementary attacker—the Mr. Everything, a gap-filler and a role player.
Not every team needs one, but Madrid certainly do. And in Benzema they’ve got the best one they could ask for.