Real Madrid: Karim Benzema, "Europe's most underrated striker"
The figures that the Real Madrid striker has registered this season do him justice - despite being in Messi and Cristiano's shadow and overlooked by France.
Karim Benzema is "one of the most underrated player in the world" according to an article published by the BBC this week, which borrows a phrase from Match of the Day presenter, Gary Lineker. Benzema was unveiled at Real Madrid in the same week as Cristiano Ronaldo (Madrid paying Olympique Lyonnais 35 million euros for him in 2009) but it was the Portuguese star who always took the limelight - for good reason. Nevertheless, Benzema has managed to hold his place down for more than a decade, despite competition from Higuaín, Morata and now, Luka Jovic. It also speaks volumes that all of the coaches he has worked under at Madrid - Pellegrini, Mourinho, Ancelotti, Benítez, Zidane (in both of his spells at the helm), Lopetegui and Solari had him as a first choice in their sides.
Playing in a league alongside record-breakers Messi and Cristiano meant that he has never been the centre of attention but his figures are impressive and consistent. Karim, who turns 32 next month, is currently the fifth top goal scorer in Europe's top five leagues with 10 goals (the top scorer in LaLiga), behind Lewandowski (16), Immobile (15), Werner (12) and Vardy (12) and level with Abraham, Dembélé and Lukaku.
Top scorers in Europe's five major league
He and Leo Messi are the only two players to have scored in 15 consecutive editions of the Champions League - something even Cristiano hasn't managed. And his achievements don'y stop there. Earlier this month, he overtook the great Ferenc Puskás to become the sixth top scorer of all-time for Real Madrid in LaLiga and at the same time, moved past Arsenal great Thierry Henry - no other French player has scored more goals for one foreign club.
Benzema is now the ninth top scorer in Europe's major leagues on 201 goals (43 for Lyon, 158 for Madrid) - ahead of him are Messi (469), Cristiano (449), Lewandowski (277), Cavani (261), Agüero (241), Luis Suárez (233), Higuaín (225) and Ibrahimovic (221). Behind him in tenth place is Arsenal's Aubameyang with 194 goals.
Top goal scorers in Europe's five major leagues since 2009-2010
It's also worthwhile noting that he has been frozen out of the France squad, for motives unrelated to sport, since 2015.The man who took his place, Olivier Giroud, has not found the target at all during his time as Karim's replacement. If we take a look at the figures of French players in the five top European leagues from 2009-2010 onwards, it's clear that Benzema is top of the pile. His 158 goals surpass those scored by Griezmann (138), Lacazette (131), Gameiro (124), Giroud (111), Ben Yedder (110), Gomis (97), Remy (89), Modeste (88) and Thauvin (78).
Top French goal scorers in Europe since 2009-2010
|Thauvin||Olympique de Marseille||78|
And of course Benzema isn't just about scoring goals - he creates them too for his team mates. No one else has served more assists to Cristiano during the Portuguese star's career. Maybe, as the BBC point out, he hasn't got the recognition he deserves - indeed, his figures put him among the best strikers of the past decade.