After an inept Diego Costa performance last night against West Ham United, Chelsea’s eyes should be turning to the Champions League action. Not because they need to mentally prepare for next season’s European adventures or to have an excuse to take control of their television, but because there is a striker who must be on their radar this evening. That striker is Karim Benzema, who will more than likely start for Real Madrid tonight as they visit Napoli.
While Benzema is not a realistic target for Chelsea this season, the Frenchman is the calibre of player they must be looking towards if Costa does make his move to China this coming summer. The Blues will still have Michy Batshuayi and Bertrand Traore for the start of next season, but it’s hard to imagine them not spending significantly on a centre forward should Costa be subject to a bid of £60 million upwards.
Benzema has long been in the shadows of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. His role at Real Madrid is regularly overlooked by those who only give the Madrid club a passing glance and watch their Champions League form. The intricacies in his play, his smart movement and superb back-to-goal work make the space for his more heralded teammates to thrive. Without Benzema, Ronaldo would not have anywhere as many goals as he does: the Frenchman plays a selfless role in a Real Madrid forward line dominated by one ego.
While Costa’s heavy first touch has seen him break up Chelsea’s attacking moves on an increasingly regular basis, Benzema is a comparative artist in the final third. He brings midfielders into the game, rather than taking on defenders himself: he favours releasing the ball than trying to bully his way past opponents. There are stylistic differences between them, Costa is more of a battering ram while Benzema possesses a more delicate touch around the area.
Chelsea have needed Costa’s brute force and street-fighter aggression at times this season, but Benzema shows the type of striker they could build around in a post-Costa line-up. They do not need to look for a player as unique as Costa, they require a striker who can bring the best out of the scurrying duo of Eden Hazard and Pedro. Benzema’s goal-scoring seldom makes the headlines alongside the superhuman numbers of Ronaldo, but the Frenchman’s career rate of around a goal every other game puts him up with the world’s best.
Benzema is the blueprint for modern centre forward play. With teams often looking to their attacking midfielders and wingers as primary goal threats, his longevity and success at one of the world’s best teams shows his class. Chelsea are likely to have to delve into an expensive, occasionally misleading centre forward market this summer, they should keep an eye on the performances of Karim Benzema for the framework of the player they need.