“K9 is your guardian angel”: How Karim Benzema changed himself and Real Madrid | Champions League

a A smile spreads over Rodrigo’s face. Standing beside the training ground in Valdebebas, Real Madrid teammate Karim Benzema, four-time European Cup winner 13 years old who “always talks to me before games” and “helps us a lot, both on and off the pitch”, discusses someone he “always try to listen to”, when Asks: So what’s the best advice he’s ever given you? The answer is immediate. Rodrygo replied, “I play ball for him.” There is laughter, but it is sound advice. “Every time I give him the ball, it works,” he says.

In the 96th minute of the semi-final match against Manchester City, Rodrygo played the ball for Benzema, to hit a cross pass through which Real Madrid got a penalty that could put them in the Champions League final and secure another ridiculous comeback. The Brazilian scored twice in one minute to take them into extra time and awarded Benzema the penalty to complete a hat-trick. “No, you have to take it, Karim,” Rodrigo replied. “Well, of course: after the season he’s been going through…” he said afterwards.

It was the best thing he could do. As for Benzema’s season, it’s hardly believable: no one has scored quite like this season in the Champions League, perhaps ever.

Standing at the north end of the Bernabeu, Rodrygo conceding the ball and responsibility, Benzema scored as much as he did in Manchester, sinking into a Panenka – a brave but carefully prepared response after he missed two penalties in seven minutes. In Osasuna six days before that. He scored in the 82nd minute to make it 4-3 against City, and that was the moment that gave Real Madrid hope in the second leg. “We will do something magical: we will win,” Benzema vowed. Now he could make sure they did, as the place got wild when he scored, which they knew he would do.

Really sound advice: Give the ball to Benzema. Even when he tries to give it to you. Which he does unusually often for an attacker. His presentation of the ball says a lot about him; So they have taken a lot of debt to him. In Manchester, Benzema scored half an hour after City’s 2-0 lead, and the match slipped from them. Against Paris Saint-Germain, they were 1-0 down at home, 2-0 on aggregate, when he scored a hat-trick. This was followed by another hat-trick at Stamford Bridge. Then came the winning goal in the 96th minute in the second leg against Chelsea. Now he scored in the same minute against City.

It was his fifteenth goal in the Champions League this season, two outside the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2013-14 when Benzema scored. He has scored in every knockout game he has played – injured, he was absent in Paris – noting 10 of Real’s 14 goals since the group stage. Three against Paris Saint-Germain and three against City, four against Chelsea. He ranked first in the list of top scorers in the Spanish League with 27 assists in addition to 12 assists. He has 44 goals in 45 games this season.

Karim Benzema’s goals have played a key role in Real Madrid’s progress after Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City this season. Photo: Alex Livesey/Danehouse/Getty Images

“There are no words to describe the way he plays,” says Vinicius Jr. “He’s a great player. He’s my brother.” When Carlo Ancelotti was told that Real Madrid depend on Karim, he replied: “Yes. There is no problem in saying we depend on Benzema; we can’t deny it. We depend on Benzema: that’s how it is. It’s true – and a good thing. I’m happy to rely on a player like him “.

If you’re going to depend on someone, let it be a guy who’s not only playing on a higher level at the moment but seems to be on one. “K9 is Superman”, the former Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas tweeted. “K9 is a Wolverine. K9 is the janitor in your building. K9 is your best friend. K9 is your grandmother. K9 is the parachute trainer you throw yourself out of an airplane. K9 is your guardian angel. K9 is God!”

Quick guide

The road to Paris

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Liverpool

Group B: Maximum points and few fears as Jurgen Klopp’s side were confirmed top of the group at least two matches before. Confirmed the 5-1 victory over Porto in their second match on the Gulf and ended the team 11 points ahead of Atletico Madrid, who is in second place. Temporary team beat Milan 2-1 at San Siro in the final.

Round of 16: Inter 0-2 Liverpool; Liverpool 0-1 Inter (Liverpool won 2-1 on aggregate). Late goals from Salah and Firmino secured a famous victory and Inter could not recover enough at Anfield.

Quarter-finals: Benfica 1-3 Liverpool. Liverpool 3-3 Benfica (Liverpool won 6-4 on aggregate). Benfica’s late return in the second leg but once again hard work Liverpool have done away from home.

semi final: Liverpool 2-0 Villarreal; Villarreal 2-3 Liverpool (Liverpool won 5-2 on aggregate). In the first half at the Estadio de la Ceramica the tie was unexpectedly even. But Liverpool turned the scales in the second half with goals from Fabinho, Diaz and Mane.

Real Madrid

Group D: Sharif of Moldova carried out the shock of the group stage by beating Real 2-1 at the Bernabéu. But Real won every other match, including the two against Inter and a 5-0 win away to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Round of 16: Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 Real Madrid; Real Madrid 3-1 Paris Saint-Germain (Real won 3-2 on aggregate). Benzema triple in the second half. An epic return to when all seemed lost. And so it began.

Quarter-finals: Chelsea 1-3 Real Madrid; Real Madrid 2-3 Chelsea after that (Real won 5-4 on aggregate). Benzema hat-trick in the first leg. Chelsea were 10 minutes from the original game time in the second leg but Rodrygo and then Benzema removed the defending champions.

semi final: Manchester City 4-3 Real Madrid; Real Madrid 3-1 Man City (Real won 6-5 on aggregate). A tie through the ages. City were 3-1 up at the Etihad and 1-0 up at the Bernabéu, but Real came back both times. Two stunning late goals from Rodrygo pushed the equalizer into extra time and Benzema’s penalty sealed what seemed inevitable at the time.

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He is ahead of Alfredo Di Stefano and Raul, and is the second-best scorer in Madrid’s history. He has 323 goals with Real Madrid, after seven years in which he did not take a penalty. Only Lionel Messi and Ronaldo have more goals in the Champions League. But it’s not just about goals. Casemiro says he’s the world’s best No.9, but Ancelotti admitted “that calling him a striker seems like nothing short of fall short to me”. Zinedine Zidane once said: “People talk about Karim as a pure number 9, 9 and a half, 10; for me, it is a little bit of everything.”

For years, in fact, it wasn’t really about goals at all, the idea that he could end up near the top of those charts he didn’t really think about, including before him. The striker, who scored 11 league goals in 2016-2017 and five in 2017-18 has had 21, 21, 23 and 27 since then. At least in part because he had to. Or maybe it was allowed. Of course, 2018 was the year Ronaldo, the man who served him, passed away. “I had this guy who scored 50 points in the season,” Benzema said. Of Ronaldo’s 457 goals, Benzema has made 47, and even this does not reflect his role as a facilitator.

“Karim has completed more than five years,” Ancelotti said after returning to Madrid last summer. The coach threw in the towel sometimes, he ran out of superlatives and didn’t know what to say, if there was anything he could add. “It’s like wine, better all the time, with each year,” he said. Physically, Benzema is better than ever; Emotionally too. There is confidence, calmness, and reassurance around him, almost zen. “He’s more of a leader, he feels more important and that makes the difference. He has more personality,” says Ancelotti.

More recognition too, goals that are an issue for him, and that becomes sustainable, the level goes up all the time. Players who help improve their teammates an act Santiago Solari, the former Real Madrid coach, insists in defense of his player, but the goals add to the glare. Ilkay Gundogan said: “He was underestimated in the past; now he is proving his critics wrong. For a long time he was in the shadow of Ronaldo, especially in the press, but now he is getting the attention he deserves.”

Luka Modric says: “I am happy for Karim. Now everyone realizes what we have all known for a long time. It is a pleasure to play with: his understanding, his movement and his ability to smash opponents.”

Much has been said about Benzema’s development into a striker, although it may not be so much about his development inside ace striker adding This role is in his game. forgetting to be a striker; Benzema is Footballer; hey Playunlike everyone else.

“For me, Karim hasn’t changed at all – not at all,” Casemiro insists. “Now we’re talking about him as the 9th best player in the world, about the Ballon d’Or. The only thing that has changed is his relationship to goals. He scores more goals, but his understanding of the game, his daily life, the quality of his skills, his way of seeing the game, is the same. The only thing in other years is the same. It is Cristiano or someone else who scored.”

Real Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti during a training session the day before the 2022 UEFA Champions League Final against Liverpool at the Stade de France.
Carlo Ancelotti says he has run out of superlatives to describe Karim Benzema. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

One of the things that stands out about him is his ability to disappear, to slip out of motion only to come back again. More often than not, that allows him to deliver the finish, but that movement he always had – understanding when to clear spaces and allow others that Ronaldo has benefited the most from – remains central to his game. “He is very, very important: he scores the most goals and we always try to look for him,” says Rodrygo. “But he’s also important for those of us on the wing because he’s out and we can go try to score. He gives a lot of passes too. He’s an exceptional player.”

When asked about the list of traits that characterize Benzema, one of the opponent’s managers sent a brief profile, in points:

Understand the gameplay that few attackers have (always picks the right one)

Ability to combine and create overloads

It is difficult to fix with a mark, and from there the timing of appearance and end

Technical quality to do so

makes his teamBest mates.

Above all, Benzema makes them win, and his level now surpasses anyone, anywhere: a man who gives the ball to him, a man who counts on him. Well, usually. Before the match at Stamford Bridge, he could not find his credit and had to go back and look for him. I told him, ‘Hurry up, otherwise you won’t be able to play! “Ancelotti revealed.” “Fortunately, he finally found her.”

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