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Player Focus: What’s Wrong with Karim Benzema?

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Player Focus: What’s Wrong with Karim Benzema?

 

“Someone who’s a starter at Real Madrid can’t be as bad as that.” French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet made a few jaws drop with his frank assessment of Karim Benzema in the immediate aftermath of France’s tame goalless draw in Georgia. Yet desperate times tend to drive people to distraction from the party line. France have not scored for four matches, and Benzema is without a goal for 1,217 minutes with Les Bleus. Whether a high-ranking administrative official should be coming out with something like this is highly doubtful, but it is clear that Le Graet was voicing exactly what a lot of people are thinking.

 

Some of those who know Benzema best have rejected the notion of there being a Real Madrid version of the striker, and an inferior, photocopied one for France. Zinedine Zidane, Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant and now close to Benzema after a sticky start to the pair’s relationship, defended his team’s striker on French television on Sunday night. “There’s only one Karim Benzema,” Zidane told Canal Football Club. “He’s a talented player who can give a lot to both France and Madrid at the same time.”

 

Yet the 25-year-old does seem markedly different on international duty. He has started La Liga’s season well, scoring 2 and providing 2 more in Real Madrid’s three games to date. The level of anger that Benzema provokes back home is partly informed by his friendship with bad boy rappers and his perceived truculence, but most of all, people are annoyed because of the extraordinary ability he possesses – which, of course, doesn’t tally with his current productivity or lack thereof. 

 

The differences between the players surrounding him in the national set-up and those doing so daily in Madrid are significant, of course, but not just in terms of quality and how well they know one another. Valenciennes head coach Daniel Sanchez, asked for his views by L’Equipe after the game, pointed out that Benzema and Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud – who partnered in Georgia - have rarely played together. 

 

Sanchez’s bottom line was a simple - and interesting – one, though. “I’m often astonished to see the strikers looking for a one-two with our wide players,” he said, “with (Mathieu) Valbuena and (Franck) Ribéry. The place that forwards should be is in front of the goal.” 

 

This sentence could have been specifically crafted to describe Benzema’s current difficulties for France. Well aware of his own technical ability, he will never be the sort of forward to stand and wait for a chance. He needs to drop deep and link. He has an intuitive technical relationship with Ribéry, just as he does with Cristiano Ronaldo. The major difference between the two pairings is that Benzema and Ronaldo’s interchanges tend to take place a lot closer to the opposition goal. 

 

Didier Deschamps has tried to tinker with his system to get the best out of Benzema, even though he is not a coach known for his teams’ expansive brand of football. “It can’t always be the fault of others,” wrote Raphael Raymond in Saturday’s L’Equipe in a scathing review of Benzema’s display on Friday. It’s easy to see, though, why Benzema wouldn’t want to change his game. 

 

Player Focus: What’s Wrong with Karim Benzema?

 

As well as scoring 80 goals for Real Madrid in all competitions since the start of 2010/11, he has set up 45. Last season, Benzema’s 11 assists in 30 La Liga matches (only 19 of which were starts) put him second for Real Madrid, behind only Mesut Özil, and fourth in the whole division. Benzema’s dropping into deeper positions isn’t merely to service his own ego. It has tangible benefit. 

 

His problems with France, though, predate Deschamps’ arrival. The opening match of Euro 2012, against England, was a case in point. France dominated the match, a 1-1 draw, yet WhoScored’s Player Positions from the game show Benzema in a deep role, barley separable from Ribéry and Samir Nasri. Benzema had 6 shots on goal during the game, but 4 were from outside the penalty area, one from the edge of the box and the other from an acute angle. He was behaving more typically of the number ten on his back rather than the ‘nine’ that he was supposed to be. Laurent Blanc’s team had no attacking focal point, which probably cost them the win.

 

Some sort of attempt at linking up Benzema with Giroud has been long overdue, and might deserve perseverance, even given the slim returns on offer against Georgia. It seems natural that it would take time. One can probably count the amount of times Benzema has played in a 4-4-2 on the fingers of one hand, though he may get some practice with his club this season, with Ancelotti using two centre-forwards to good effect in the second half of the last campaign at Paris Saint-Germain. 

 

It’s not just Benzema who’s suffering in the current France line-up. Too many players are being shoe-horned into roles that don’t suit them, or that they don’t regularly fulfil for their clubs, at least. Ribéry is in the left-wing role that he occupies for Bayern, but he is the only forward player who does faithfully reprise his domestic role. Valbuena – one of France’s better players in recent months – was stationed on the right in Tbilisi, and spent most of the game sneaking infield to the position just off the main attacker that he so enjoys at Marseille. 

 

Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko is perhaps the biggest victim. Having been trumpeted as “a number 10 from now on” by Deschamps in the wake of his effervescent early performances in England, he’s been played everywhere but since – firstly wide right, and then in a deep central position against Georgia. 

 

Maybe Sissoko’s new clubmate Loïc Rémy could be the eventual answer, a wide attacker genuinely comfortable on the right, with the pace and goal instinct to get closer to Benzema within a 4-2-3-1 framework. For now, only two things are certain for Deschamps; Benzema simply can’t go on like this but he is far, far too good to give up on.

Comments (6)

 
  • he must improve his mental strenght, he risks to throw away his career. he has all the technical and tactical abilities to be a champion, but he need to work hard and learn how to be professional, he can start watching ronaldo's way of training. anyway, he's soon to be dropped at RM: bale, ronaldo, isco are enough, ancelotti can't put every offensive player on the pitch, and if i know carletto well, he won't do. he knows how to balance attack and defense

  • Overrated,4231 giroud as focal point

  • Benzema is all but a lazy and stupid player. He gets lost very easily and is always lazy to follow up when he looses the ball. I am at a lost as to why Real Madrid did not sell or loan him out?????

  • If Henry underperformed at the national team then why is he the all-time top scorer? :|

  • Eric, Guivarch, Henry, Trezeguet, Gignac, french striker seems underperform at national team

  • Benzema is out of form even at Real Madrid, those 2 goals he scored were from close distance from 100% chances, that any 1st league striker would have scored. He even got booed by Real Madrid fans, because he's not working as hard as the others plus he seems to be always in offside position, even at set pieces he's 1-2 meters offside and that's ridiculous. How can Ronaldo or Isco play balls to him, if he can't time his runs. Benzema's struggle with France will continue, because they don't create that many clear cut chances like Real does.

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Alexis Sanchez Pedro Loïc Remy Sami Allagui Frédéric Kanouté Renato Augusto Jonathan Pitropia Eljero Elia Ivo Llicevic Fernando Muslera Diego Perez Alvaro González Abel Hernandez David VIlla Marcel Schmelzer Danijel Pranjic Holger Badstuber Sven Bender Johan Djourou Darren Fletcher Carlos Kameni Thiago Silve Antonia Di Natale Cristiano Zapata Domenico Criscito Luis Jimenez Josep Ilicic Samuel Eto’o Alexis Thébaux Ludovic Sané Mamouda Sakho Boukary Dramé Daniel Alves Nikolay Mihaylov Charles Puyol Ji-Sung Park Edwin van der Sar Dani Alves John O’Shea Park Ji-Jung Gabi Fernandez Jonathan de Guzman Michael Owen Gary Taylor-Fletcher Ian Evatt DJ Campbell Charles N’Zogbia Wolverhampton Robinho Rudi Garcia Avram Grant Conor Sammon Wayne Bridge Rob Green Victor Obinna Mike Hanke Borussia Munchengladbach VfL Bochum Tomasz Kuszczak Martin Olsson Brett Emerton Jermaine Jones Steven N’Zonzi Muset Ozil Gianpaolo Pazzini Leonardo Seydou Keita Miguel Pallardo Ibrahim Afellay Valdo Pallardo Damien Perquis Luka Modrid David SIlva Roberto Mancini Harry Redknapp Benoit Assou-Ekotto Vedran Corluka Carlo Ancelotti Saloman Kalou Clarence Seedorf Matteo Brighi Fabio Simplicio Rodrigo Taddei Mark Van Bommel Gennaro Gattuso Kevin Prince-Boateng Nicolas Burdisso Elkin Soto Pep Gaurdiola Lassana Diarra Jurgen Klopp Lucas Barrios Antonio da Silva Robert Mak Heurelho Gomes Andre Marriner Pinto Alavro Arbeloa Nikola Zigic Alexander Hleb Cameron Jerome

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