Why Karim Benzema is suddenly missing penalties

Real Madrid, Karim Benzema (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Karim Benzema (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid star striker Karim Benzema is having a sensational season. Well, the Frenchman has been incredible for years, carrying Real’s attack in the previous three seasons, including when Los Blancos won LaLiga in 2019/20 under Zinedine Zidane. But this season, the Ballon d’Or favorite has been on another level entirely, registering a ridiculous 39 goals and 12 assists in 40 appearances for the club. At the age of 34, Benz is having a career year.

A player of his caliber and with his determination takes every little aspect of the game seriously. And while he is operating at the top of his game in every sense, Benzema does whatever he can to make sure he has no weaknesses.

If there is one thing that puzzled Madridistas, then it is the two missed penalties against Osasuna in an otherwise excellent 3-1 win for Los Blancos, which included a strong individual performance from the No. 9 despite the misses from the spot.

Benzema’s two missed penalties in Pamplona came after he went two-for-three from the spot a couple of weeks ago in a difficult win over Celta Vigo.

Prior to these three penalty misses in the span of a month, Benzema was perfect from the spot for Real Madrid. He was one of the most accurate penalty takers in the world, literally converting all 11 of his attempts in a Royal White kit before 2021/22, in addition to his first four of the campaign before missing his first every penalty as a Madrid player against Elche.

Karim Benzema has been a below-average penalty taker this season

So this season, Benzema is 9 for 13 from the spot, which means he is scoring on less than 70 percent of his attempts. Not only is that below the average of around 75 percent, but it is well below other top players whom Benzema is surpassing in other measures this season.

Benzema missed both penalties against Osasuna to Man of the match Sergio Herrera, who saved them by diving early to his left. You’ll notice that Benzema never looked up to sneak a peek if Herrera was leaning in one direction, and Herrera was, in fact, starting his dive as Benz struck the ball.

Contrast this approach to the technique Robert Lewandowski – the world’s most prolific goal-scorer, most consistent penalty taker, and potentially Benz’s top competitor for this year’s Ballon d’Or. Lewandowski has converted an astounding 93 percent of his penalties since the 2015/16 season. That’s the standard Lewa has set, and there is an expectation that elite strikers who are regular penalty takers are converting at a rate substantially higher than the average 75.

What makes Lewa so good at penalties? The timing of his run-up, his attention to detail in how the keeper is moving, and his clinical finishing. But it is not enough to have accuracy and power in the finish. To convert penalties with that level of accuracy, a taker must win the mental battle with the keeper by being vigilant and quickly processing the information the keeper gives him.

Benzema’s approach is, quite frankly, amateurish for a regular taker. He does not look at the keeper. If you don’t acknowledge the keeper’s movement, your chances of converting the penalty are not much better than 50/50. That rate goes down even more if you almost always shoot to your preferred side, which, for the natural curvature of the foot, is the left side of the goal for a right-sided player. And Benzema, as Osauna’s keeper even noted, has this clear tendency, which made his tame efforts easy to save.

Being that predictable and not caring about the keeper’s positioning is a huge double-whammy. Benzema is now taking more spot-kicks, which means keepers have a target on him and have more film to do their homework to notice these tendencies and make predictions on what he will do. That means Benzema must be even more proactive.

At this point, Real Madrid should not mess with their primary taker and remove Benzema. However, he needs to put in serious work this offseason to change his run-up and approach, otherwise Los Merengues will need to find someone who can offer a conversion rate substantially higher than 70 percent. Benzema is leaving goals on the table when a club like Madrid should be aiming for someone who converts penalties closer to the 90 percent mark, as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos used to.

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Goalkeepers are figuring Benzema out, putting the onus on him to strike the ball perfectly with power each time. And that makes the margin for error even smaller, when you require power to win. Benz is just about the perfect striker, but now he has something to work on this summer.