Is it fair to judge a striker solely on goalscoring tally? Is it right to even think of a forward as a player whose only job is to put the ball in the back of the net?
These are questions Karim Benzema isn’t worrying about lately.
On Saturday, the Real Madrid front-man scored his fifth goal in six matches for the Primera Division giants—a purple patch that has taken his haul for the club to 101 over parts of five seasons.
He has rarely been in better nick, and a jubilant Spanish press has taken to labelling the Madrid attack of himself, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo the “BBC.”
These are heady days for the 26-year-old—a far cry from the pre-Christmas criticism that focused on his lack of production for club and country.
Tangible production, that is. Because Benzema, as any La Liga aficionado will concede, is about far more than scoring goals.
As recently as October, when the Frenchman was experiencing one of his dry spells, teammate Alvaro Morata was asked if he might supplant Benzema in manager Carlo Ancelotti’s starting 11.
“I have one of the best forwards in the world in front of me,” was the youngster’s reply, as per ESPN FC.
That same month, Madrid assistant manager Zinedine Zidane remarked that goalscoring wasn’t even Benzema’s primary function at the Bernabeu, telling L’Equipe (as relayed by Inside Spanish Football) that “with Madrid it’s different, because they play in a different way.”
That “way” is centred on the pace and power of Ronaldo—as well as the recently-acquired Bale—and requires a playmaker with smarts and vision to play between the two of them. And while Ronaldo makes many of his own chances, he also likes to play quick one-twos with his fellow forwards during lightning-quick spells of buildup.
Benzema enables that, and there’s a case to be made that he was as responsible for Ronaldo’s 2013 Ballon d’Or win as anyone else.
“Cristiano Ronaldo and Benzema have become Real’s version of Batman and Robin,” Pablo Polo wrote in a November column for Marca. “It has been Benzema more than anyone who has found the best way of getting into the world of Cristiano Ronaldo.”
According to Squawka, Benzema has so far completed 81 per cent of his passes this season—the majority of which have been made in the high-risk area of the attacking third. He quite often drifts off the opposing backline to link play between either of his wingers or the likes of Luka Modric and Isco, who are pushing into the 18-yard box, and he is impressively capable of playing from either flank when one of Ronaldo or Bale moves inside.
“[Ronaldo and Benzema] can understand each other simply with a glance, and over time they have come to dovetail to devastating effect,” added Polo.
They have, indeed.
And the next time the goals dry up for Benzema it would be well worth asking Ronaldo for an opinion of his teammate.
Here’s guessing the Ballon d’Or winner wouldn’t be found guilty of under-appreciating the Madrid striker, as so many others are wont to do.