Karim Benzema has undoubtedly been the man this calendar year. While other players like Luis Suárez or Marcos Llorente have had spells of brilliance, the Frenchman has contributed in almost every game during this strange year.
The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo marked a turning point for the Frenchman. Before this seismic change, Benzema lived in the shadows, labelled as overrated by pundits: he was extremely angry when former FC Barcelona striker Gary Lineker questioned his ability. But, the striker was never written off by his teammates, or previous manager Zinedine Zidane and current boss Carlo Ancelotti. The latter has handed him vice-captaincy after the departure of club captain Sergio Ramos.
2021 has been a remarkable year for Benzema.
- Didier Deschamps shocked the world by calling him up to the French National Team for the European Championships. In the autumn, he helped them lift the Nations League.
- He was judged to be guilty of conspiring to blackmailing former French teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
- He finished 4th in the Balon d'Or rankings.
Whatever his off-field antics, he has not let it affect his performances.
Benzema has been the star in a youthful attacking Real Madrid lineup. The team is a combination of experience and exciting young talents. While Benzema has been the undoubted star, the emergence of Vinícius Jr and Éder Militão are also worth mentioning. The youthful Brazilians have been given a new lease of life at the European Giants, perhaps thanks to the stewardship of the wise French number 9.
Benzema has been the man not only in the capital, but across the country. He leads the way in the Pichichi; although the excellent Juanmi is second, it seems the only player who can stop the Frenchman is his teammate Vini Jr in third.
Benzema's performances have been top draw. Now, there is no doubting he is one of the top strikers in the world. Goals against title rivals Sevilla FC and Atlético de Madrid have proved his quality in the biggest matches. His outstanding volley against the latter will provide bragging rights to Los Merengues for some time. Despite limping off at the Reale Arena against Real Sociedad just a week earlier, Benzema struck early to help Real Madrid to stroll to victory against Diego Simeone's Atlético de Madrid with ease. He followed the volley up with a sumptuous curling effort against Athletic Club, at San Memes, in what is always a tricky match for the top teams.
What's next for Karim Benzema?
In 2022, there's plenty to look forward to for the French international, namely a World Cup in November; he will be one of the first names on the teamsheet for France if he remains fit. 2022 could also be the year Real Madrid regains the Champions League; with Benzema as the focal point, it would be foolish to discount them despite tough competition. A more realistic goal is perhaps winning La Liga and the Pichichi. Having lost out to rivals Atleti and their striker Suárez, Benzema, and Los Blancos will be out to prove a point.
It is also worth keeping an eye on his increasingly influential partnership with Vinícius Junior. Once regarded as a player who lacked end product, Vini Jr silenced critics during a crucial Champions League quarter-final against the English Giants, Liverpool FC. Since that game, he has not looked back. His game has gone from strength to strength under Carlo Ancelotti. Despite beginning the season behind Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale, he has managed to score 11 goals. The deadly duo will hope to continue their excellent form; the pair have a combined total of 25 goals and 12 assists.
Whatever happens over the coming years, Benzema has cemented his status as a Real Madrid great, and he can look back on 2021 with great pride.