Real Madrid enjoyed a dream 2021/22 campaign as they won the La Liga title, the UEFA Champions League and the Spanish Supercup.
The likes of Vinicius Junior, David Alaba and Luka Modric enjoyed brilliant seasons, but one man who stood apart at a whole new level was Karim Benzema.
The 34-year-old superstar enjoyed a stunning campaign, finishing with a tally of 44 goals and 15 assists from 46 matches in all competitions. He scored important goals all throughout the campaign, often dragging Real Madrid over the line almost single-handedly.
So, it should not come as a surprise that Benzema is currently the popular choice to win the Ballon d’Or 2022.
While Benzema’s 2021/22 season was on a completely different level, things have not started all too well for the 34-year-old in the new campaign.
Slow start for Benzema in 2022/23
The numbers will tell us that Benzema already has three goal involvements (two goals, one assist) from three matches in all competitions in the new season. However, he has looked well below his best in all of those games, and one of the goals has come from the penalty spot.
In his two matches in La Liga this season, Benzema has missed as many as six big chances according to stats procured from Sofascore. That is the highest number by any player in the competition after two matchdays.
Having scored just once from 12 shots, the French international’s goal conversion rate stands at a lowly 8.33%. In comparison, Benzema had missed 18 big chances throughout the last La Liga season (32 matches), while his goal conversion rate stood at 21%.
Is the lack of rotation by Ancelotti the issue?
While it is too early in the season to set the alarm bells ringing, it is evident that Benzema is not performing at his optimum levels. He had some fitness problems which prohibited the striker from participating fully in the pre-season, and it could take time for him to regain his rhythm.
However, the underlying cause for the said fitness problems and the resulting slow start to the new campaign could very well be the lack of rest and rotation provided to him by manager Carlo Ancelotti last season.
Of Real Madrid’s 38 La Liga matches, Benzema played 32, with only one of those appearances coming off the bench. On top of that, he started 12 out of their 13 Champions League matches beginning from the group stage to the finals while also featuring twice in the Spanish Supercup.
When not playing for Real Madrid, Benzema was away representing France during the international break. Indeed, between September last year and this summer, he played in ten of Les Bleus’ 13 games.
While he has done brilliantly to stay as fit as he is, this amount of relentless game-time might be having an adverse effect on Benzema’s performances.
Imprudence not to sign a new striker
During Ancelotti’s first spell in charge, the Italian did not rotate his players during the 2013/14 campaign.
And while that season brought them the coveted La Decima, Real Madrid would go on to suffer several injury problems in the next term, which helped Barcelona to beat them to the La Liga title.
Ancelotti has insisted that he will rotate his troops more regular this season, especially with the World Cup set to be played midway through the season.
However, at this point, Real Madrid have no backup for Benzema in the No. 9 role and banking on him in every game could end up taking a toll on the Frenchman, in turn affecting the club’s trophy ambitions.
Also, Benzema will soon be turning 35 years old. So it would only make sense for the club to use him more judiciously. And hence, not signing a new striker before the transfer window could prove to be an imprudent move.
Brahim, Modric start in a 4-4-2: How Real Madrid could line up against Rayo Vallecano
Real Madrid have an excellent opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the La Liga table to eight points when they travel to Estadio de Vallecas to take on Rayo Vallecano on Sunday afternoon.
Real Madrid are currently five points clear of second-placed Girona and with the Catalans not playing until Monday night, Los Blancos have a chance to stretch their advantage with a win tomorrow.
Momentum is also on the side of Carlo Ancelotti’s men after they picked up two crucial victories against Girona (La Liga) and RB Leipzig (UEFA Champions League) over the past week.
But, Rayo Vallecano, who have a new manager in place in Inigo Perez, had managed to hold Real Madrid to a goalless draw in the reverse fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu. So, the game will not be straightforward on Sunday.
Here’s how Real Madrid could line up at the Vallecas as they look to take another step towards winning the La Liga title.
Andriy Lunin has firmly established himself as the preferred choice in goal ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga. As such, the Ukrainian should again start for Real Madrid against Rayo Vallecano.
There will be one change in the defensive line that took the field against Leipzig in midweek as Fran Garcia will step into the team at left-back with Ferland Mendy out of the squad due to suspension.
Antonio Rudiger, David Alaba, and Eder Militao are still injured, which means Aurelien Tchouameni will once again have to fill in at centre-back where he will partner captain Nacho Fernandez. Meanwhile, Dani Carvajal should continue on the right side of the defence.
Tchouameni starting in defence means one can expect Eduardo Camavinga to occupy the pivot position in the middle of the park for Real Madrid.
However, there could be a notable change in midfield, with Luka Modric getting a rare start after a period of inactivity, with Toni Kroos getting a breather. Federico Valverde will occupy the other interior midfield position for the visitors.
Brahim Diaz came off with a fitness issue against RB Leipzig in midweek, but is not injured and has been named in the squad list. Given his form, the Spaniard should again start in the hole behind the two forwards in the absence of Jude Bellingham, who is injured.
Up top, there is no looking past the Brazilian dynamic duo of Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius Jr, both of whom will be raring to get on the scoresheet after not scoring against Leipzig.
Joselu is certain to come onto the pitch at some point in the game to provide a different kind of threat in the attacking third. Toni Kroos should also come off the bench, especially if things are not going Real Madrid’s way.
There could also be minutes for Arda Guler, who has not seen as much action as one would have expected since returning from injury. Dani Ceballos is also an option for Ancelotti if he wishes to relieve one of his midfielders.