The third quarter of 2018 was touted to be critical for Real Madrid for their greatest goalscorer, Cristiano Ronaldo. With rumours at an all-time high, many believed that the Portuguese would finally move on, seek new challenges. On July 10th, Ronaldo finally broke his silence — confirmed his move to Serie A giants, Juventus.
Madridistas, like other fractions, were busy watching the greatest show on earth — FIFA World Cup 2018 — at the time. Still, they did not shy away from giving their hero a proper send-off, flooding the social media services with good wishes and gratitude. In only a month, Real Madrid had lost two of their most influential cynosures — Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo. Now, the task fell on club president, Florentino Perez to find a way out of the pit and bring in personnel who could at least try to fill in the boots of the two greats.
Perez, uncharacteristically, failed to impress in the transfer market and tasked new coach, Julen Lopetegui, to make do with the tried and tested champions. Before the season kicked off, many tipped Gareth Bale to step up to the plate in the absence of Ronaldo, be the talisman the team desperately needed. The Welshman, who scored an invaluable brace in the 2017-18 Champions League final, started the season strongly but misplaced his shooting boots in the crucial clashes.
Fortunately for Los Blancos, an undervalued Frenchman took it upon himself to keep the club afloat and score decisive goals against all odds.
An unlikely saviour
Real Madrid’s number 9, Karim Mostafa Benzema, is not your regular “mean-minded” centre-forward. With a gifted scorer like Cristiano Ronaldo at his side, Benzema happily took the role of the provider, moulded his game to create space and openings for the Portuguese. After Ronaldo’s departure, the responsibility fell upon Benzema to do justice to the number written on the back of his shirt and emerge as Real Madrid’s primary goalscorer.
Having played differently for so long, it took time for Benzema to find his footing. In the first half of the Spanish top-flight campaign, the 32-year-old only netted seven goals — an abysmal return for a striker of the most decorated club in the world. Benzema, too, understood his shortcoming and pledged to bounce back stronger in the second half of the season.
After the departure of Santiago Solari and subsequent return of Zinedine Zidane, Karim Benzema rediscovered his Midas touch. He got back to scoring, assisting, and leading the charge of Real Madrid’s disjointed attack. In the final 12 La Liga games, the Frenchman netted 10 goals and racked up four assists, making sure Los Vikingos did not have to ply their trade in the Europa League.
Newly-promoted young sensation, Vinicius Jr, too, showed his potential, but it was Zidane’s compatriot who helped Real Madrid to a third-place finish in La Liga, behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
In need of a broad shoulder
After the horrendous 2018-19 campaign, Real Madrid are desperate to bring at least one trophy back to the Spanish capital. Under Zidane, the Whites have done exceptionally well on the defensive front, but the forward line is still limp in crucial encounters. Summer recruit, Eden Hazard has had a tough time battling with niggling injuries, while Gareth Bale has been struggling to win Zidane’s confidence.
Luka Jovic, who was meant to keep Benzema on his toes, has also failed to impress his coach and is unlikely to be the hero in the final few weeks of the 2019-20 campaign. All factors combined, the responsibility will once again fall into the broad shoulders of Karim Benzema. Only this time, a Champions League finish will not cut it.
He, too, was far from clinical in the gameweeks leading up to the COVID-19-enforced postponement, but he is still Real Madrid’s best bet at the moment. He somehow needs to find his formidable self, repay his boss’ unwavering confidence, and lead his club to silverware, etching his name in history in the process.
The Frenchman, who has scored 14 goals and assisted six in 26 La Liga encounters this season, is still not your regular number 9. His instinct still tells him to look for better-positioned team-mates. He still drops deep to help out Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the middle of the park. He is still the welcoming senior who takes youngsters under his wings. Only now, he is not playing second fiddle anymore — he is the unabashed leader of Real Madrid’s historic front line. Only now, he has the means to capture the limelight, show the doubters how wrong they were to write him off, over and over again.