Karim Benzema has emerged from Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow and changed the board's transfer plans, with Hazard and Pogba in line to support the forward.
With 2018-19 more or less over and little left to play for but finishing above Atlético after Barcelona effectively sealed the title on Saturday night, the Bernabéu board has been working on plans for next season. Zinedine Zidane has made his preferences known and will now spend the remainder of the campaign studying his current squad to determine who will and who won’t be lining up for Real Madrid next season.
Chief among Florentino Pérez’s concerns during a disappointing campaign is whether or not he should dust off the cheque book this summer to sign a goal-scorer to replace Cristiano Ronaldo but Karim Benzema has been auditioning to retain his role this season and appears to have convinced the Real president there is no need to sign a number nine.
Benzema's Real Madrid scoring record
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At this stage last season, Ronaldo had bagged 23 league goals and Benzema’s brace against Eibar on Saturday took his tally for 2018-19 to 17 in LaLiga and 26 overall in 48 games in all competitions. At a rate of a goal every two games the Frenchman is only four goals shy of his best season at the Bernabéu, 2011-12, when he managed 32 in total, and two fewer than the 28 he scored in 2015-16. The 30-year-old has also proven decisive during Real’s most recent slump under the returning Zidane, scoring six goals in his last five games and rescuing three points against Eibar and Huesca with late strikes.
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The thing with Benzema, in the view of Pérez and the board, is that he was the perfect partner for Ronaldo, sacrificing a lot of scoring opportunities himself to tee up his Portuguese teammate. This season, Benzema has taken a step in a goalwards direction himself and could yet beat his own record for campaign if he continues as his current rate. That has convinced Real that they are unlikely to find a better number nine than Benzema in the transfer market and has seen long-term targets such as Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski shelved for the time being.
Zidane’s preference now is for a back-up striker to work as Benzema’s understudy (Raúl de Tomás, who has scored 13 for Rayo this season, is well-placed to return this summer) while putting a new supporting cast into place for the Frenchman.
Real’s primary targets are Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba, with the idea being that the Belgium and France internationals can chip in with a few extra goals compared to Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, who both average 0.05 goals a game this season. Hazard averages 0.25 goals a game and Pogba 0.21.
Both are long-term targets for Pérez and Zidane and will be pursued this summer with renewed vigour. But in Benzema’s case, the answer to the number nine question has been answered by the Frenchman’s overall performance this year.