Although the season is not yet over, it is pretty much obvious that Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or 2022 by a country mile.
Karim Benzema was at his scintillating best yet again as he scored a brace against Manchester City at the Etihad in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinal. His first goal came after he met a Ferland Mendy cross on the volley with his left foot. The angle made it look extremely difficult, but as has been the case so often with Benzema this season, he made complex things look simple.
That he had the audacity and the nerves to score a Panenka penalty in the semifinal of a Champions League tie while his team was trailing by two goals – more so considering that he had missed two penalties against Osasuna just days prior to the game – shows the headspace that Karim Benzema is in.
That sort of confidence is indicative of a player who just can’t be stopped from scoring, no matter the situation. Benzema has scored 14 goals in the UEFA Champions League this season, more than any other player. 9 of those 14 goals have come in the last four games (2 vs Manchester City, 4 vs Chelsea across two legs, 3 vs PSG in the Round of 16 2nd leg), all of them knockout ties. He has come clutch whenever Real Madrid seem to have lost their way.
Benzema is having one of the greatest seasons in Champions League history
It might already be one of the greatest individual seasons in the Champions League, regardless of whether Real Madrid progress to the Final. Benzema has been absolutely ruthless and unforgiving, even in games where the opposition have had the upper hand.
But it’s not just his performances in the Champions League that make Benzema the most obvious candidate to win the Ballon d’Or. He leads the goalscoring charts in La Liga with 26 goals. Benzema has never scored more league goals in a single season. The unprecedented level at which the 34-year-old is performing has propelled Real Madrid towards their second league title in three seasons, with Los Blancos wrapping up the league against Espanyol on Saturday with an emphatic 4-0 win with four games to go. It was only poetic for Benzema to come off the bench and score the fourth goal.
Benzema is the best player in the world at the moment. Even if he doesn’t score or assist even once in the remaining games this season, I believe he has done enough to have sealed his name on the Ballon d’Or trophy. And I doubt many would disagree with me on this. 42 goals and 13 assists in 42 games are numbers beyond compare this season.
Let’s talk about Benzema’s competition for this award. In my article where I discussed about where Benzema stands in the Ballon d’Or race, I mentioned that I was confused between Benzema and Robert Lewandowski for the top-ranked player in the list because of Lewandowski having scored more goals this season.
Lewandowski has 49 goals and 6 assists this season, and is scoring at a rate of a goal every 78 minutes. That’s just incredible. But Benzema has as many goals+assists (55). In fact, he is doing much more than just scoring. According to Understat.com, Benzema averages 2.1 key passes per 90 in La Liga, while Lewa averages almost half as Benzema’s figure, at 1.14 key passes per 90. Benzema has also scored the more difficult goals than Lewa, outscoring his xG by 3 goals, whereas Lewa has 3 lesser goals than his xG this season.
According to FotMob, Benzema has created 16 chances in the Champions League this season, while Lewa has created 12 chances. Benzema has the ability to do everything in his artillery. He has more than twice the number of assists that Lewa has, while also not being that far behind in terms of goals.
This is simply Karim Benzema’s season in Europe’s premier club competition. Lewandowski scored 9 of his 13 goals in the group stage. Benzema on the other hand has scored nine goals in the last five games against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Manchester City, in the knockout stages. These goals include two hattricks too.
Kylian Mbappé has statistically outperformed every other player in Europe’s top five leagues. He has 58 goal contributions (35 goals and 23 assists!) across all competitions. But even he had a slow start before the turn of the year. He found his best form since the turn of the year, scoring 21 goals and registering 7 assists in 19 games. In comparison, Benzema had an incredible start to the season, managed to maintain that form midway, and is inarguably the best form of his life at the moment.
Talking about the Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, they have been great this season. Liverpool already have one foot in the final, while they are just one point behind Manchester City in the Premier League.
Salah, who has 30 goals and 14 assists, had an outrageous start to the season, scoring goals left, right, and centre, while also effortlessly creating goals for his teammates. But he has been largely inconsistent since March, scoring only three league goals during that period, while he is on a four-game goalless streak in the Champions League. Benzema in the same period has seven league goals and nine Champions League goals.
Mané, on the other hand, has been superb for Liverpool in recent weeks, hitting the 20-goal mark yet again. But a 10-game goalless run for the club that started at the end of November and finished in the first game of 2022 puts a big asterisk on his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or. He won the African Cup of Nations with Senegal and can win the quadruple with Liverpool if they manage to win the league, Champions League, and FA Cup. But we need to ask, how big a role has Mané played?
We must take into account that these players are part of teams that have scored more goals than Real Madrid this season, barring PSG. Real Madrid have scored 108 goals this season, while Bayern Munich and Liverpool have scored 139 and 136 respectively.
Karim Benzema has scored 38.9% of Real Madrid’s goals, Lewa has scored 35.7% of Bayern’s goals, Mbappé has scored 34.7% of PSG’s goals, while Salah+Mané combined have scored 36.8% of Liverpool’s goals. Just look at those figures. Benzema beats everyone.
His performances are evidence that he is the glue of this team. He is the ideal player and captain of Real Madrid who keeps the team motivated and united. He is always the first one to initiate a press, and when he sees other players not supporting him, he either does it alone (see Benzema’s hattrick goal against Chelsea in the quarterfinal first leg) or insists his teammates push higher up the field and apply pressure (see Benzema’s first goal against PSG in the Round of 16 second leg). He just does it all.
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Karim Benzema is the most complete player in world football at the moment, and no one comes close to him on a purely individual level. Benzema’s 2021-22 season will be talked about for years to come. He is just three goals away from leapfrogging Raúl as the second-highest goal-scorer in Real Madrid history, and it would be perfect for him to be recognised for the endless records he has broken this season with a much-deserving Ballon d’Or.