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.
Tchouameni, Camavinga start in a 4-3-3: How Real Madrid could line up against Mallorca
Real Madrid will be hoping to cut down the gap to league leaders Barcelona to two points when they face RCD Mallorca at Son Moix on Sunday afternoon.
Los Blancos enjoy a superior record against Javier Aguirre’s side, but have had missteps of late. Meanwhile, Mallorca have won three of their last four matches at home and will pose a stern test to Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
Things will be made even more complicated for the reigning Spanish champions as they will have to make do without club captain and ace goalscorer Karim Benzema. Eder Militao, who had been in top form recently, is also out with an injury, as are Ferland Mendy and Eden Hazard.
It will be an important match for the Merengues if they wish to keep up the pressure on their rivals Barcelona. Ahead of this encounter, Madrid Universal takes a look at how Ancelotti might set his team up on Sunday afternoon.
There is just no looking past Thibaut Courtois in goal for Real Madrid. The Belgian has been a consistent and key performer for the champions and will again be crucial if they are to return with three points from Mallorca.
Dani Carvajal made his return from injury in the midweek win against Valencia, coming on from the bench. While David Alaba is back and available, Ancelotti could avoid risking him against Mallorca so that he is fit for the FIFA Club World Cup next week.
As such Antonio Rudiger and Nacho Fernandez should form the centre-back pairing for Los Blancos, whereas Eduardo Camavinga should continue in the makeshift left-back role that he has essayed in the past couple of matches.
Moving into the middle of the park, Ancelotti will likely look to reintroduce Aurelien Tchouameni into the starting XI after the midfielder made his return from injury against Valencia.
The 23-year-old Frenchman will slot in as the No. 6 while in-form star Dani Ceballos and Luka Modric could occupy the remaining two spots in midfield. Toni Kroos, who picked up a knock in the previous match, will likely be protected for the Club World Cup.
Benzema’s absence means Rodrygo Goes becomes the obvious choice to line up as the No. 9 against Mallorca. Meanwhile, Vinicius Jr and Marco Asensio, who were the goalscorers for Real Madrid against Valencia, should continue occupying the flanks.
Vinicius · Rodrygo · Asensio
Ceballos · Tchouameni · Modric
Camavinga · Nacho · Rudiger · Carvajal
Federico Valverde will be an option from the bench for Ancelotti to tweak the attack, given that there are no other natural forwards in the squad for tomorrow’s game, apart from the out-of-favour Mariano Diaz.
David Alaba will likely receive some minutes off the bench so that he gets some action under his belt heading into the FIFA Club World Cup. The same should hold for Toni Kroos, who has recovered from the knock he sustained against Valencia.
Jesus Vallejo or Alvaro Odriozola might get a few minutes in case Real Madrid are in the lead and Ancelotti is looking to shut up shop.