All about the Benzema
Karim Benzema underlined his status as Real Madrid’s most important player with another match-winning performance in Saturday lunchtime’s 3-2 La Liga stroll then scare at home to Levante at the Bernabeu.
The first 20 minutes at a drizzly Bernabeu were quite dull, with Madrid seemingly affected again by the early kick-off, and Levante playing with the confidence of a team who had won and drawn on their previous two visits here.
A Madrid team again lining up without any of their summer signings began to grow into the game - with Benzema the catalyst to get things started. First he came deep to help his midfield get moving, teeing up Toni Kroos for a shot which drifted wide. Then he had a go himself from 20 yards, bringing a flying save from visiting keeper Aitor Fernandez. Next he set up Lucas Vazquez for a shot which hit the outside of the post.
The breakthrough was coming, and moments later Lucas V laid it back to Dani Carvajal, whose cross picked out Benzema for a textbook number nine header which flew past Aitor to the net. Just a few minutes later it was two. It was all about Benzema again, as he won the aerial battle with maker Oscar Duarte, got the ball back from James Rodriguez, held off the defender again, and slid the ball past Aitor. Another great goal, his fourth in four games so far in 2019/20, to go top of the early Pichichi standings .
Levante looked broken now and Benzema also involved in Madrid’s third goal inside 15 minutes. He again came deep to pull the defence out of shape and link with Carvajal. Soon Vinicius Junior was flying down the right wing and Casemiro was unmarked in the centre to finish.
3-0 up at the break for the first time at the Bernabeu since May 2018, Madrid seemed set for a handy second 45 minutes when they could already start mentally preparing for Wednesday’s Champions League group opener at Paris Saint Germain. But as so often over recent seasons, their midfield and defence were just unable to control the game, even with the commanding lead they’d been given by Benzema.
Some familiar sloppy defending allowed in on loan Borja Mayoral to score for his ‘parent’ club soon after the break. Then another one time Madrid youth teamer Gonzalo Melero got away from Carvajal to head in at a corner and make it 3-2 with 15 minutes remaining.
Coach Zinedine Zidane did not help matters by removing both Sergio Ramos and Casemiro, thinking of Paris on Wednesday, and giving Eden Hazard his first 30 minutes of official action with his new team. Madrid absolutely lost all shape - Toni Kroos holding the centre on his own, as supposed midfield partners James Rodriguez and Lucas looked knackered and confused respectively.
There were whistles from upset Blancos fans watching as their team just about hung on for the three points, with Thibaut Courtois making his first save of the game to stop Ruben Vezo equalizing in added time.
It is a long time now since Benzema was being whistled at Bernabeu, and fans and pundits kept going on about his disinterested body language. The Frenchman unsurprisingly received a standing ovation when he was also withdrawn late on today - with the crowd glad of his contribution to getting the team into a lead that even their dodgy defending and concentration could not give up.
"We just ask Benzema to keep playing like this,” Zidane said afterwards. “He is so important for us. We are all so happy with him. We saw the ovation he got today from the fans. He must keep doing as he is doing. Although the team must improve. We played well in the first half, but must play with that quality and commitment."
Los Blancos’ supporters should really shudder to think where they would be if Benzema hadn't stepped up his form to really really top level about 12 months ago, with the Frenchman the one player who has actually played better since Cristiano Ronaldo left.
With everyone else seemingly falling injured at one time or other, Benzema has played in 60 of their last 62 La Liga games. Which, as Marca pointed out this morning, means he has played 97% of Madrid’s Liga games since 1 January 2018 - only missing out when he fractured a finger, and then putting off an operation to play through the pain to help team in difficult moments.
Saturday’s double took Benzema to 152 goals over his in La Liga - into the 20 top scorers in all time La Liga history and just four behind Ference Puskas’ tally. The 2009 signing from Lyon has scored 19 La Liga goals over the first nine months of the calendar year 2019. Only Barcelona’s currently injured Lionel Messi has scored [just one] more. Madrid’s Benzema-dependencia has seen him score nine of the team’s last 12 goals at the Bernabeu.
Gareth Bale [suspended today] has also begun the new season well, and latest galactico Hazard showed signs of his quality during his first half hour in a Madrid shirt. But today’s game at the Bernabeu showed again just how vital Benzema has become to any chance the team has of success this season.