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Karim Benzema Says He Can Play His 'Real Football' Without Cristiano Ronaldo

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2019

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 24: Karim Benzema of Real Madrid CF celebrates his side's first goal during the La Liga match between Levante UD and Real Madrid CF at Ciutat de Valencia on February 24, 2019 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by David Aliaga/MB Media/Getty Images)
MB Media/Getty Images

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is relishing the opportunity to be the new "leader" of the team's attack following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo for Juventus, saying he can finally play his "real football" again without the Portuguese star.

The two formed an impressive tandem after both joined Real in 2009, and while Benzema enjoyed playing with him, he told France Football (h/t Goal's Stephen Crawford) it's good to be the focal point once again:

"Before there was a guy who scored more than 50 goals per season and my role was to provide assists.

"I played to help Cristiano, we formed a good partnership. I was always looking for him with the intention of helping him to score even more goals. Now though, I'm the leader of the attack. It's up to me to make the difference. I'm very happy because now I can play my real football."

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 24: Karim Benzema of Real Madrid runs with the ball during the La Liga match between Levante UD and Real Madrid CF at Ciutat de Valencia on February 24, 2019 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

The 31-year-old has scored 11 goals in La Liga this season and four times in the UEFA Champions League. His form in the new year has been excellent after a difficult start to the season as Real struggled to deal with Ronaldo's departure.

Ronaldo was the focal point of Los Blancos' attack for years, playing a key role in the team's current run of three consecutive Champions League titles.

Benzema was also a key component of those teams, but his main job was to function as a target man near the box and find Ronaldo in dangerous positions.

He scored his fair share of goals in that role, even if the focus was on passing:

OptaJose @OptaJose

20 - Karim @Benzema has scored 20 goals in all competitions in seven of each one of his ten seasons for @realmadrid. Reference https://t.co/BaXoafNsyL

His scoring output has increased greatly of late, but the Frenchman isn't too focused on the numbers and believes there's more to being a striker than scoring goals: "For me, being an attacker is not just about scoring goals. Football is becoming a compilation of statistics and that's all we look at. There are attackers who open up spaces for their team to play into, who offer opportunities to their team-mates, who tire out opponents...football must be looked at as a whole."

He also discussed his role as a senior player and believes he can help star prospect Vinicius Junior.

Alberto Saiz/Associated Press

The emergence of Vinicius as a viable starter in attack has coincided with Real's improved form, and the European champions have closed the gap to local rivals Atletico Madrid to just two points in the La Liga standings.

Barcelona sit nine points ahead of Real ahead of the Clasico doubleheader, with the two teams meeting in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday and in La Liga play on Saturday. Both matches will be in Madrid.

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