Karim Benzema is experiencing an Indian summer in his career. In modern football, plenty of players continue to shine through their 30s, teammate Luka Modric is still bossing games at 36. Christiano Ronaldo is scoring consistently in the Premier League at 37 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains a big player for AC Milan at 40. Yet it is rather surprising that the Real Madrid striker and vice-captain is producing the best form of his career at 34 years-old. With just one La Liga game and a massive Champions League fixture to come, Benzema has taken his goal scoring tally for the season to 44, a personal best. In fact in 13 seasons with Real Madrid he has never previously broken 30 total goals.
Team of destiny, Real Madrid’s Champions League journey
Benzema has been one of the key driving forces behind Real’s remarkable run to the Champions League final, which has seen them overcome PSG, defending champions Chelsea and tournament favourites Manchester City. Claiming back-to-back hat-tricks against PSG and Chelsea before getting on the scoresheet in the decider against the Blues. If that wasn’t enough for the talisman he followed that up by firing a brace in the first-leg 3-4 defeat to City, which was preceded by his winning penalty to send Madrid to the Champions League final.
Benzema has now scored seven Champions League goals against English teams this season; the most by a player in a single campaign ever. Looking ahead to the final against Liverpool, Benzema has scored four in his last five against the Reds. If you are looking for a spread betting punt against Liverpool in the final? Karim Benzema to continue his rich vein of form looks particularly inviting.
Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti is keenly aware of Benzema’s importance to Madrid, saying before their quarterfinal win over Chelsea, “We are dependent on Benzema. That’s how it is, we are not going to deny it. And I’m very happy that we are dependent on Karim. It’s a reality, and it’s a good thing.”
“Karim is a modern forward and does what is required of strikers. Everything, including defensive work. He is the perfect representation of what a centre forward should be in today’s football.”
International redemption after multiple controversies
Benzema’s exile from the France squad began in 2015 in the aftermath of the sex tape scandal with former Les Bleus team-mate Mathieu Valbuena. Having been blacklisted by the French Football Federation (FFF) he missed out on Euro 2016 – where the French were beaten finalists – and the 2018 World Cup where Les Bleus captured their second world title.
His return has been a long time coming. His former head coach at Real Madrid said during the build up to the 2021 Euros, “How can we understand why Karim doesn’t go with the national team? There are many who don’t understand it. But it’s better for me as a coach if he stays. He has done a great job for us.”
After face-to-face talks with Les Blues coach Dider Deschamps aimed at resolving their differences from his six-year exile the forward was named in the France squad for last summer’s European Championship. “It was a special day,” Benzema told L’Equipe. “It happened really fast, it was a feeling of joy and pride. I remembered all the moments when I never gave up. It was a little shock, it’s been a long time! Deschamps didn’t tell me, we talked a lot, it was a long conversation, but he never said to me: ‘You’ll be at the Euros.’ The only thing he said was that we’d taken a big step together and that we’d see.”
Notwithstanding France underperforming last summer, Benzema’s four goals in four Euro games and three goals in five World Cup qualifying matches hint at his electric form and importance going forward. There is a mastery to his performances in his mid-30s: he has honed his intelligent link-up play and his dedication and work ethic without the ball is world class.
Ballon D’Or favourite and World Cup 2022 Golden Boot winner?
The Ballon D’Or, long considered one of the most prestigious individual awards presented every year by French news magazine, France Football, is set to be awarded in October just before this winter’s World Cup in Qatar. As things stand it is Benzema’s to lose, with the Frenchman firmly in the front seat of Real Madrid’s memorable journey to the Champions League final. Even if Real were to lose the final to Liverpool, Benzema has more than likely done enough to win the Ballon D’Or – making him only the second player since 2008 to win the prize outside of Messi and Ronaldo – based upon his domestic form, scoring a league-leading 27 goals in 31 games helping Real Madrid to reclaim the La Liga title from local rivals Atletico Madrid. At the time of writing Benzema is 1/4 odds-on for the award.
With the kind of form he is showing, can we expect him to continue scoring for the national team with the winter World Cup just around the corner? With odds generally around the 14/1 mark, he is well priced for the World Cup golden boot award and perhaps a little underrated. The defending champions France go into the tournament with one of the strongest squads on paper with the striker flanked by talented attackers Griezmann, Mbappe, Pogba, Coman and Theo Hernandez. After missing out on multiple international tournaments earlier in his career, I would expect Benzema to arrive in Qatar with a chip on his shoulder.