There were plenty of doubts about the post-Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid. After the Portuguese icon’s move to Juventus in 2018 Real were, simply put, not very good.
The Champions League elimination at the hands of Ajax last season was embarrassing, and ending the La Liga campaign 19 points behind Barcelona was inexcusable. There were some real holes in this team which needed filling.
However, amid all the despair and uncertainty, one man stood up and commanded the role of Real’s talisman – Karim Benzema.
Having managed five league goals during his final campaign alongside Ronaldo, Benzema’s number flew all the way up to 21 without his former teammate, and that trend has continued this year.
Before football was postponed back in March, Benzema had bagged 14 league goals in 26 games. He had been quietly and efficiently climbing his way up Real’s all-time scoring charts, and he moved up to fifth on Thursday by netting twice in a 3-0 victory over Valencia.
“For the second goal everything happened so fast,” Benzema said after the game (via the club’s official website). It was a cross from Marco [Asensio], I control it, I shot with the left foot and it went in. It looks easy, but you have to do it so fast.”
No, Karim. No it does not look easy.
For Real, every goal they score this season is crucial. They’re in pursuit of league leaders Barcelona and they come with an inferior goal difference. The pressure each Real player is under every single second is enormous.
By the time the 86th minute of Thursday’s game arrived, Real were 2-0 up and confident of a victory, but they still wanted more goals. It could all come down to goal difference, so Los Blancos cannot afford to be behind. They had to push on.
The returning Marco Asensio, who has not been seen since he picked up a cruel knee injury in pre-season, was out with a point to prove. The Spaniard had plenty of lost time to make up for, and after scoring his side’s second, he was full of confidence.
Asensio floated a cross in towards Benzema, who had less than a second to decide what to do. To make matters worse, Valencia defender Hugo Guillamón was already winding his leg back for a clearance. Benzema had no chance.
And yet somehow, he won.
Benzema flicked his foot at the ball and softly lifted it over Guillamón’s leg, while simultaneously keeping the ball under his control.
Without even looking at the goal, Benzema knew he was about to score a worldie. It didn’t matter where the goalkeeper was, he was going to put his foot through the ball and seal an outstanding victory. And that’s what he did.
What this goal did was serve as a pleasant reminder of what Benzema is truly about. Due to his diminished role alongside Ronaldo, many felt as though the Frenchman was finished and washed up, but he has since proven each one of his critics wrong.
He’s one of football’s premier marksmen, and his tally of 243 goals for Real in all competitions – one more than the legendary Ferenc Puskás – proves that.
“I didn’t imagine anything like this, I’m very happy,” Benzema added. “I’ve been working for a long time now and I always put it in to keep improving. I hope I can keep going. I’m very happy to be playing for this club.”
Next up – Santillana’s 290 goals.
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