Real Madrid relying on injury-hit Karim Benzema for more European glory

Karim Benzema has formed an essential part of Real Madrid's Champions League success, but there is doubt over whether his team can rely on him to extend its European domination this season. The French striker's season has been regularly disrupted by injuries, and although Vinicius Junior is a deadly threat on the left, without Benzema, defenses can focus on shutting down the Brazilian winger.

His future at Madrid is also unknown as his contract expires in June and no public decision has been made over a renewal by player or club.

"Legends of this club have to stay at Madrid," Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said, hoping the forward remains a part of the team next year.

Benzema missed Madrid's LaLiga win over Espanyol on Saturday with an ankle issue but is expected to return to face Liverpool at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday in a round of 16, second-leg matchup. The 35-year-old has been sidelined frequently, including with a thigh problem that forced him to miss France's 2022 World Cup campaign. The forward has missed 34 percent of Madrid's games across all competitions this season, 14 matches in total, but has scored 18 goals in the 27 games he has played.

"Something is wrong with Benzema, never in his entire career has he spent so much time in the injury room," Madrid newspaper AS complained last week, with Benzema out for the eighth time. "These have been months of disappointment and enormous mystery regarding Karim," AS continued.  

Captain and champion

Benzema has aged like a fine wine, playing his best soccer in his later years, freed up from playing on the fringes when Cristiano Ronaldo left Madrid in 2018, and becoming a top-class goal scorer.

Last season, Benzema captained Madrid to Champions League glory, with the 1-0 win over Liverpool in the final securing the club's record 14th triumph.

Benzema was crucial in Madrid's wild run to Paris, scoring a remarkable 17-minute hat trick in the round of 16 to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain. The forward netted another hat trick at Stamford Bridge in the quarterfinals to put Chelsea on the ropes and clinched the two-leg victory for his team with an overtime winner in the second leg.

Manchester City suffered the same fate in the semifinals, with Benzema netting twice at the Etihad in the first leg then slotting home an extra-time penalty at the Santiago Bernabeu to send Madrid through to the final. Benzema finished as the competition's top scorer, with 15 goals, and scored 44 in 46 games across all competitions last season, as Madrid lifted the double.

That magic has been sprinkled less liberally this season, although Liverpool had a taste at Anfield in the first leg as Madrid ran out 5-2 winners, with Benzema netting twice, his first goals in this season's Champions League. It was a display of lethal finishing, leaving Jurgen Klopp's team shell-shocked after it had raced into a two-goal lead. Benzema's brace took the forward to 88 Champions League goals in his career. He will hope to overtake Barcelona's Robert Lewandowski (91 goals) as the third top scorer of all time in the competition. Both players are reaching the end of their storied careers and eyes are turning to the future. 

With Benzema's destiny yet to be decided, PSG's Champions League exit last week proved an opportunity for some Spanish news outlets to rekindle links with Kylian Mbappe.

"If you want to win the Champions League, you already know…" Marca's front page ran, next to a picture of the French striker.

Real Madrid fans are also excited about young prospect Alvaro Rodriguez, although it is too soon to expect the 18-year-old to make a significant contribution on the European stage. The club's hope of retaining the trophy this season reside with Benzema, who causes worry each time he suffers a new setback. Some believe he has been deliberately preserving himself for the team's biggest matches and the key European dates, and that it has affected his form.

"I see a very motivated Benzema, and I think you will see a different Benzema from now on, in 2023," Ancelotti said in late December, but so far it has not transpired.

For Real Madrid to succeed again in Europe and win a fifth Champions League title in 10 seasons, getting Benzema back to his best is of the utmost importance.

rbs/nr

© Agence France-Presse

1 comment about "Real Madrid relying on injury-hit Karim Benzema for more European glory".
  1. Santiago 1314, March 15, 2023 at 11:54 a.m.

    Just Give US the Trophy, it's Ours.... We "OWN IT"
    Hala Madrid.!!!

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