Benzema exposes Real Madrid’s need to sign a new striker
Benzema’s disappointing Clásico reignite the debate about whether Real Madrid should sign a centre-forward this summer.
Real Madrid went into Thursday’s Clásico on a high after the result gained at Liverpool (although their confidence was slightly knocked by the poor performance in the derby against Atleti) and encouraged by the numerous casualties on Barcelona’s side (Lewandowski, Pedri, Dembélé, Christensen...). All of the ingredients were in place to get a positive result to set them on their way to the Copa del Rey final. But it turned out very differently. Ancelotti’s team had greater possession of the ball (65%), but hardly created any real danger around Ter Stegen’s goal and didn’t even have a shot on target during the whole 90 minutes - something that has never happened in a Clásico this century.
In fact it’s the first game of the season in which Madrid has not managed a shot on target. The team’s average this season had been 6.5 shots on goal per game. Last season, there was just one game with no attempts on target - against PSG, in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16, which they lost 1-0. It highlights Madrid’s inefficiency in attack and that clearly points to Benzema, in spite of his decent figures (12 goals in 14 games since the World Cup). The French striker’s erratic form has reopened debate about whether Madrid need to sign a new forward this summer.
Benzema started this season aged 34, but his figures from the previous campaign distorted reality as well as the conclusions reached by Madrid regarding the future of the team’s attack. It seemed that there was no urgency to find a replacement for a player who scored 44 goals in 46 games. Madrid bet heavily on signing Mbappé on a free transfer and let Haaland pass them by. The plan capsized, leaving the team with just the Frenchman as their main centre-forward, with Mariano as the only alternative - a player who barely played 400 minutes last season and whose contract is coming to an end. The other options are all wingers: Asensio, Rodrygo, Hazard...
Warning signs were not heeded and now, the worst prognosis is coming true. Benzema has already missed 12 games due to seven different physical problems (in addition to the World Cup in Qatar) and that in turn has affected his form - he is struggling due to a lack of continuity and, probably, as is inevitable, that time is finally catching up with him. The years go by for everyone and at some point the seams had to start to show for the current Ballon d’Or holder.
Ancelotti took the measure of drafting in 18-year-old Álvaro Rodríguez from Castilla - he came on in the Clásico as a last resort in a vain attempt to salvage a draw. Now the club is assessing whether the team would be able to cope with just Benzema and the Uruguayan as the only natural centre-forwards next season or whether they need to buy one, with the cost that would incur.
The 2024-25 season will be one of change for Real Madrid, for a number of reasons. Firstly, Endrick will arrive (from Palmeiras), and there is always the possibility that he could be registered with the first team from the start. Secondly, the club will start making a concerted effort to sign either Mbappé or Haaland. Kylian could be available on a free transfer - he has a contract until 2025, but the last season is optional and depends on whether he agrees to continue or not). Haaland meanwhile has a release clause which can be triggered from the summer of 2024 - he too would be within Madrid’s budget. But in between there is the 2023-24 season and the question: What should Madrid do?
Mbappé, Endrick, Álvaro, Vlahovic...
There are two sides to this debate: one is to stick with Benzema and Álvaro Rodríguez, trusting that between both of them and with hekp from the others (Vinicius, Rodrygo, Valverde...), Madrid can get by. The other is to sign a player at a reasonable price to have a player on board who can compete on equal terms with Benzema, while knowing that in 2024, if Mbappé or Haaland arrive, their situation will change radically.
In this second option, names are already emerging, such as Vlahovic, as recently reported by AS. The Juventus forward was on the verge of being transferred to Manchester United in January, with Juve asking for a fee between 100 and 120 million euros, but the player’s agent stopped the operation at the last minute. A high price, but in exchange for a young player (23 years old) who can deliver immediate results - last season, he scored 29 goals, and this season, even with Juventus in decline, he has 10. Juve are also one of the three clubs that is still actively immersed in the Super League project and relations with Real Madrid are excellent, so the negotiation, in that sense, would be simple.
That is the dilemma now facing Madrid. Do they take the definitive step of bringing in a striker? A move which would induce the final stage in Benzema’s time at the club at a critical moment - Benzema’s contract ends in June, but it has already been verbally agreed that he will stay on for one season...