Karim Benzema And His Historical 2021/22 Season

Photo Credit: AP

Karim Benzema was in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Frenchman’s talents were still abundantly obvious, yet he was playing second fiddle to the Portuguese mega star.

Naturally, Benzema’s role evolved when Ronaldo departed for Turin a few years ago, and he has only gone from strength to strength since then.

Benzema stats have skyrocketed. He’s gone from complementary player to one of the very best strikers on the planet, leading Real Madrid to trophies in a manner that many doubted he could.

The link-up play has always been elite, though Benzema is doing so much more as a goal scorer now, too. He scored 42 goals in 43 La Liga and Champions League starts in 2021-22. That’s historic stuff.

It was a fifth Champions League title and a fourth La Liga in 2021-22. He also won a first Pichichi Trophy after notching a fourth-place Ballon d’Or finish in 2021.

The individual accolades and team honours continue to flow for the Frenchman. If anything, he keeps improving, even though he will celebrate his 35th birthday the day after the 2022 World Cup final.

Winning the Ballon d’Or has become a very realistic ambition for Benzema following Real Madrid’s win over Liverpool in Paris. He is the favourite for the award as it stands, ahead of Sadio Mane, Kylian Mbappe and others.

What Benzema has done so far in 2021 cannot be overstated – he has guided Los Blancos past PSG, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in one of the most remarkable Champions League runs ever, while dominating domestically.

Speaking after the final, Rio Ferdinand was forthright on where Benzema stands in the Ballon d’Or race.

“I think the argument is over for the Ballon d’Or. If Karim Benzema does not get his hands on the Ballon d’Or then it will be a travesty.”

Where some might talk down their interest in individual hardware, Benzema was open about his ambitions when asked if the Ballon d’Or was on his mind.

“Of course. Now I will join up with the national team but I don’t think I can do much more with my club. We will see what happens, but in any case I am proud of what I have done.”

The former Lyon striker also shunned the idea that Real rode their luck to win the Champions League.

“You can be lucky once but not every time. We deserve our victory. We put in the effort, we came back every time, we never gave up.

“Every player is important in our squad, whether they are a starter or a substitute, or they don’t play often but give everything in training.”

There is no denying that Benzema is among the world’s best players right now. Carlo Ancelotti noted how he has embraced being a leader prior to the final against Liverpool, and there’s only going to be more momentum behind Benzema’s Ballon d’Or case in the coming months.

In a pre-final interview with UEFA, Benzema spoke about the value of experience, and how his relationship with the sport has shifted.

“I think there are more and more players in this situation, who get better and better after they turn 30.

“I take good care of myself, I pay a lot of attention to what I do; I get as much rest as I can, I work harder, I find the time to work properly, and I think experience helps. That’s why I feel great today, both technically and mentally speaking.

“When I was 19, 20, I was obsessed with football, with being on the pitch. And then, little by little, you realise that being on the pitch isn’t everything.

“There are a lot of other important things around it: eating well, sleeping well, getting enough rest, working in the gym, so many things that I didn’t used to do, as the way I saw it, football was only about what happened on the pitch.”

From a teenage phenom in Lyon to Ronaldo’s strike partner, Benzema adapted his game and mentality.

He did what was required under an array of managers, whether developing chemistry with Mesut Ozil or putting Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in position to deliver in the biggest moments.

It has been a career of being a team player, and while he still brings the best out of his teammates, Benzema’s latest chapter has allowed him to take centre stage.

It’s a role in which he has thrived, forming a fearsome counter-attacking duo with Vinicius Jr, and becoming the wise head of a Real Madrid team which combines veteran nous with the energy of youth.

The Benzema of 2021 and 2022 has everything one could wish for in a modern striker. Reaching such standards would be impressive in the supposed peak years, but Benzema is doing this when many go into decline.

His career could have dwindled when Ronaldo left, leaving Los Blancos searching for their next number nine. Instead, he has put himself in pole position to win the Ballon d’Or, pipping Harry Kane and Robert Lewandowski to the title of best striker on the planet.

Benzema Stats per 90 (over last 365 days)

  • Non-penalty goals – 0.78
  • Non-penalty expected goals – 0.52
  • Shots – 3.92
  • Assists – 0.32
  • Expected assists – 0.30
  • Shot-creating actions – 4.12
  • Passes attempted – 43.33
  • Pass completion – 83.9%
  • Progressive passes – 4.70
  • Progressive carries – 6.45
  • Dribbles completed – 1.22
  • Touches in penalty area – 7.67
  • Progressive passes received – 7.65
  • Pressures – 10.91
  • Aerials won – 0.68