El Centrocampista

KING KARIM – Benzema finally finds his feet in Madrid

By Alex Grant

Since his big money move from Lyon in 2009, Karim Benzema has been striving to win the hearts of Madrid fans all over the world.

His work ethic and determination along with his ability around goal means he is the perfect man to initiate a counter-attack when his teammates feel pressured.

He enjoyed a fantastic pre-season for the famous club and was striking fear into defenders around La Liga until an unfortunate injury forced him to sit-out last weekend’s game.

Benzema is a precocious talent and is finally beginning to justify the substantial transfer fee paid by Madrid to pluck him from his boyhood club on the eastern border of France two years ago.

Born in Lyon, France on 19 December 1987 his early career was spent at Olympique Lyonnais from the age of nine, where he became one of the club’s most outstanding students.

His bow into first team football started aged just 15 when he played against Metz in 2005.

Having only been risked in six games that season, the impression he made was obvious.

His pace, strength, awareness and panache in front of goal earned an Under-18 call up for France where he went on to score 12 goals in 14 matches.

An impressive tally for any striker.

Benzema began to attract attention in the 2007/2008 season where he exploded onto the scene winning the Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France.

Having played a total of 51 games that season, Benzema netted an amazing 31 times, including his golden boot totaling 20 goals in Ligue 1.

Having impressed during the season, on 28 March 2007 Benzema, despite qualifying to play for Algeria, made his full international debut for France against Austria, scoring his first goal.

His background of French and Algerian decent meant that he inevitably drew comparisons to Zinedine Zidane, comparisons he refutes stating they are different players in different positions.

Despite trying to step out from the Zidane shadow, he followed in the footsteps of him, moving to Real Madrid  for an estimated 35 million euros in the summer of 2009.

His transition to life in La Liga was difficult however, as Benzema failed to fully re-create the free scoring form he displayed at Lyon, and his debut season proved inconsistently frustrating for the player.

It was only an injury to Gonzalo Higuain that paved the way for Benzema to really make a statement last season.

And what a statement, as Benzema struck 26 goals in all competitions.

Although not the spectacular totals from his seasons in France, it was just as impressive when considering the improved quality of his opponents in La Liga.

That Cristiano Ronaldo totaled double that for the season perhaps overshadowed the Frenchman’s tally.

It was Benzema’s pre-season form this summer proved most mouth-watering.

Having netted eight times in seven games, it was evident that he means business this season.

Benzema has finally found the form that made him one of the most sought-after forwards in the world game during his time at Lyon, and he has been an integral part of Mourinho’s set-up this season – leaving fellow strikers such as Gonzalo Higuain sat on the bench.

The Argentine has been frustrated by his lack of first team action at the Bernabeu despite having shown devastating ability in front of goal since returning from surgery last year.

Last week’s hat-trick against Espanyol was a dramatic response to the lack of opportunities this season and many, such as Sky Sports  Terry Gibson feel he has been done an injustice.

Gibson told Revista de La Liga: “Surprisingly for me, Higuain hasn’t had much playing time. Every time he’s played this year or come off the bench he has looked razor-sharp.”

A valid talking point. So why is it  that Benzema is now so fervently given the nod ahead of the equally talented Higuain?

Guillem Balague suggests that it could be more to do with Cristiano Ronaldo.

In short, the Portuguese maestro prefers to play with less selfish players.

Higuain demonstrated against Espanyol that he is single-minded in front of goal, and usually to great effect.

However, as Balague continued: “Benzema is more of an associative player, so that’s why Ronaldo prefers him.”

Is it that surprising that a player of Ronaldo’s calibre could have an effect on the overall team sheet, after all between Benzema and Ronaldo in pre-season they shared 17 goals.

More recently, Benzema has been ruled out of action for around three weeks with a groin problem, he missed the trip to Espanyol and is set to miss games for France during the international break.

It is an unfortunate injury for the Les Blues and Real Madrid front man, who was showing signs of a prolific season to come, something that is still possible, but has Higuain’s treble given the coach a selection dilemma once the Frenchman returns to fitness?

A headache for Mourinho and a torrid time for La Liga defenders this season is certainly on the cards with two equally impressive strikers vying for a starting spot to lead the line for Madrid’s title charge.


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