Around half an hour before kick-off at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat on Sunday night, Real Madrid’s forwards prepared for their meeting with Espanyol by spending ten minutes or so on a passing drill.
It started with Luka Modric receiving the ball just outside the centre circle. He would then pass to either Lucas Vazquez on his right, Vinicius Junior on his left or Karim Benzema in the middle, just outside the penalty area.
Then a seemingly spontaneous flurry of one-touch passes would result with the ball coming in to Benzema, who would either advance to shoot or lay off subtle passes for one of his teammates to strike.
When the game started, that practice was made perfect in scintillating, devastating fashion.
Los Blancos only needed a few minutes to open the scoring as Modric – occupying the same position he had patrolled during the pre-game warm-up – drove towards goal and, unchallenged by home defenders, advanced to shoot. Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez saved, but Benzema was on hand to follow up with a simple finish on the rebound.
Shortly before the break, Benzema cut inside from the left, fed an astute pass into Vinicius and his first-touch lay-off allowed Benzema to stroke home a delightful low finish into the far corner.
And finally, midway through the second half Benzema again dribbled inside from the left and found Vazquez, whose probing pass allowed substitute Gareth Bale to neatly swivel and fire home.
Espanyol had been destroyed, and there could have been plenty more goals as a result of similar passages of play, with gorgeously flowing passing football always heavily involving Benzema as the fulcrum of the attack.
The Frenchman was brilliant, more than living up to Coach Santi Solari’s post-match assertions that Benzema in this form is one of the best number nines in the world – in fact, you could quite possibly dispense with the words ‘one of’.
His performance was a privilege to behold, packed full with glorious first touches, intelligent movement, delicately perceptive passes and, of course, two goals. The complete package.
Before we start getting carried away with Benzema, however, there are two important caveats.
Firstly, we cannot overlook the quality of the opposition, because Espanyol were truly awful. They looked every inch a team who have now lost nine of their last ten league games, and Madrid’s success over the remainder of the season will be judged by whether they can overcome much stiffer challenges than they faced on Sunday night.
Secondly, there is the matter of consistency. Benzema has always been a lovely, classy player, capable of delivering the kind of show-stopping performance he produced on Sunday night, but he has only done so every now and then rather than every week.
He simply has too many games where the action passes him by and he fluffs simple chances, and went through a particularly long period of underachievement last season which saw him register just five league goals in 32 appearances – a frankly atrocious goal return for a player of his ability.
This season has been much better, and it’s tempting to conclude that Benzema has benefitted big-time from the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. Rather than being a secondary figure whose primary job was to service the Portuguese star’s insatiable thirst for goals, he is now the focal point of the attack.
As demonstrated by the warm-up routine before the meeting with Espanyol this weekend, now everything goes through Benzema, giving him ample opportunity to showcase his ability to smoothly link play – his ‘generosity’, as Solari described it – but also requiring him to become the team’s main goalscorer.
He has responded by producing his best season in years, not only in terms of hitting the back of the net but also in terms of contributing significantly on a week-in, week-out basis. And if those stellar standards can be replicated over the remainder of the campaign, it could yet end with Real Madrid celebrating a fourth successive Champions League crown.
####Credit to Sport360####