One could not take too much from Real Madrid’s Champions League quarter final first leg tie with Galatasaray on Wednesday night. Real were expected to win, and they did so handsomely by the margin of 3 goals to nil, rendering the second leg a mere irrelevance to a side that made sloppy, disorganised defending resemble an art form in the Bernabeu.
One of the strikers to take advantage of such naive defending however was Karim Benzema, to ease some of the concern that has been building over his lack of form in recent weeks. His finish, Madrid’s second on the night, was just his fifth since the start of a year that has included immense criticism over his inclusion in the France squad and an abject display against Manchester United in the second round of the Champions League, when he was abruptly withdrawn on the hour mark.
Benzema is now back in Madrid after a torrid international break where his goal drought for France extended to 1,000 minutes after blanks against Estonia and then Spain, where he was booed by his own fans in Paris upon being substituted in the 80th minute in a 0-1 defeat. It was his twelfth game on the spin without a goal for his country in a run stretching back to last June, but despite his initial calm defiance, “there are periods like this” said Benzema, “this one is long, but I will continue to work hard to score, I hope it will come soon”.
The 25 year old will have to wait a little longer for that to happen in his France shirt, but his clinical strike against the Turks on Wednesday night would have been a serious injection to his confidence. Of course, some of the ruthlessness that has founded his reputation as one of Europe’s deadliest strikers has not deserted him, indicated by his powerful finish after just 6 minutes in the recent league meeting with Barcelona.
There has been some doubt creeping into his game though, often appearing forlorn, as he leads the line in the shadow of the imperious Cristiano Ronaldo, with goals only flowing sporadically, averse to the prolific 26 and then 32 goal totals he has achieved in the last two seasons. This year he has just 12 and his mojo has been gradually eroding as a result. It is something that has not been lost on Mourinho who recently left him out of the crunch Copa Del Rey tie with Barcelona and has preferred Gonzalo Higuain in his lone striker 4-2-3-1 system on a total of 15 occasions so far this season.
The triple threat of Ronaldo – Higuain – Benzema….. not as sensational as they were last season.
The Frenchman’s overall contribution to the team has been solid with 8 assists and a total of 25 chances created for others, but ultimately strikers are judged on goals and they are not arriving as frequently as Benzema, or Mourinho, would wish. Ronaldo opened the scoring against Galatasaray to hit his 44th of the season, but the Portuguese coach would like to ease the burden on his fellow countryman who, in this current year, has hit 21 goals to the rest of the squads’ 23. “All the others have gone down in their number of goals and obviously the team feels the consequences” said Mourinho, “the goals will come…. but the reality is we are having some difficulty in scoring goals”.
It is something that has contributed to their fall back into the slip stream of Barcelona as they lie thirteen points behind their El Clasico rivals in second, having hit eighteen goals less. 72 is the total so far, it would be ludicrous to describe such a tally as poor in a top class league, but it is when compared to the century-mark that has been surpassed in both of Mourinho’s years in charge in the Spanish capital.
With nine games left, it is unlikely they will pass that mark again, it is evident that some of the potency has been lost, as again, Mourinho is aware of. “Last year we were scoring goals with great ease and the only one who has maintained a similar average has been Cristiano”, said the coach ahead of the meeting with Galatasaray.
After Benzema and Higuain, who replaced the Frenchman, got in on the act against the Turkish side on Wednesday, Mourinho was effusive, saying he would have been contented with their work had the goals not come. Yet, it was evident that he was glad that his strikers were back in the goals, Higuain himself has only netted five since the turn of 2013, as they hone down on the possibility of a tenth Champions League title with one foot in the semi-finals.
Raymond Domenech, France’s erratic former coach, has described Benzema as “useless” in a turbulent recent run of weeks for the striker, while speculation remains rife that Madrid may decide to cash in on the striker they splashed 35 million euros for back in 2009. After a poor first year, in which he hit just 9 goals, Benzema came back stronger to win France’s footballer of the year two years in succession, as he became an integral part of Mourinho’s ruthlessly efficient Madrid.
Having been written off before, now is a prime chance for the striker to prove his critics wrong again as Madrid look to end the season on the highest of notes.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
Please like O-Posts on Facebook
You can follow O-Posts on Twitter @OPosts