The story of the last few LaLiga seasons for Real Madrid has been the lack of production in attack outside of Karim Benzema. After Cristiano Ronaldo left Madrid after the 2017/18 season, Benzema made a huge jump in form.
Even with that, Madrid struggled massively in the 2018/19 season, finishing third in the league, and going out in the round of 16 to Ajax in the Champions League. The season after that Madrid was able to win the league during that strange lockdown year while losing in the Round of 16 of the Champions League again to Manchester City. And last season Madrid lost out on the league to Atletico Madrid while losing in the semifinals of the Champions League. Despite some successes, the past few seasons were certainly underwhelming by Madrid’s lofty standards.
During those campaigns, Madrid’s second-highest scorer after Benzema was Sergio Ramos. Which is a testament to the lack of production of the other forwards outside of Benzema. Florentino Perez tried to address this problem by spending big money on Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic. But those two have been all but nonexistent since they signed.
Overall, the attack lacked pace and dynamism in the last couple of seasons. Gareth Bale was aging and injured most of the time, Marco Asensio suffered a significant injury and lost some of his athleticism, and there just was not much to be excited about (or worried about, as an opposing defense) outside of Benzema. Coming into this season, the problem in attack remained.
The attacking profile at the start of the season
In the first La Liga match of the season Ancelotti played a front three of Hazard, Benzema, and Bale. On paper, it looked like this was Madrid’s clear best front three. But this aging trio started out flat. They lack dynamism and pace, and just were not exciting or very threatening to opposing defenses.
Vinicius Jr. came on as a sub and scored in that first league match at Alaves, and he has not looked back since. The winger has exploded onto the scene, with his play earning him a likely contract extension at the end of the season. His pace, skill on the ball, and overall dynamic game has given Madrid what they have missed the past few seasons: dynamism in attack.
Vinicius has undoubtedly filled the hole that was in Madrid’s attack the past few seasons. He was always dynamic. But he struggled massively in the final third, routinely wasting golden chances by putting it over the bar or playing a poor pass.
With 14 goals and 12 assists in just the league so far, it is safe to say he has overcome those struggles. Vinicius has been one of the most productive forwards in all of Europe. Along with being the 5th leading scorer in all La Liga up to this point, the partnership that Vinicius has formed with Karim Benzema has helped elevate Benzema to the current Ballon D’or favorite.
Vinicius Jr.’s partnership with Karim Benzema
Benzema has had impressive numbers in the post-Ronaldo Era. He scored 21, 21, and 23 goals in 2018/19, 2019/20, and 2020/21 respectively. With a few matches left, Benzema is already at 26 league goals for the 2021/22 season, a career-high. Benzema has received tons of deserved praise for his historic season, and many would say he has carried Real Madrid to the La Liga title. However, Vinicius’ role in his improvement cannot be overlooked.
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Vinicius and Benzema always appear to be on the same page. They routinely pass it back and forth, play1-2s, switch positions, and combine to produce a goal in pretty much every Madrid win this season. Vinicius deserves a lot of praise for helping elevate Benzema to the Ballon d’Or level he is currently at. Benzema’s quality was always there but playing with Ronaldo suppressed his goal-scoring numbers. When Ronaldo left, he produced more but he did not have the help to reach his true potential. Now with Vinicius’ rise, we are seeing the best version of Karim Benzema that we ever have.