La Liga 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Karim Benzema at Real Madrid

Filling the void

With Cristiano Ronaldo swapping Madrid for Turin after winning three straight Champions League titles, it was inevitable that the focal point of Real Madrid’s attack would shift. Who’s the player that has stepped into the void left? Benzema, a player that has been within Madrid’s ranks for approaching a decade. Finally, it appears that the Frenchman is able to play his “true football” as he mentioned in an interview with French Football.

One area to look into initially is how Benzema’s role of provider has changed since the departure of Ronaldo. A comparison between Benzema’s heatmaps in 17/18 & 18/19 show how his position has become more central, in more dangerous areas such as Zone 14 and increased activity in the penalty box. Couple this with how Benzema has increased the number of shots per game from 2.24 last season to 2.97 in 18/19. In addition to this, there has been a marked increase in the accuracy of his shooting, his shots on target accuracy has risen from 34% in 17/18 to 48% this season.

Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema heatmap 17/18
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema heatmap 18/19

Goals, goals, goals

Naturally, strikers will be judged by the goals they score, and there are few places in world football where the spotlight shines brighter than Real Madrid. The fact that Benzema, 31, has lasted as the focal point of the Madrid attack since arriving in 2009 is a testament to the Frenchman’s ability. However, he has only registered 20+ goals in La Liga during three seasons since arriving at the Bernabeu, one of which being the current 18/19 season in which he’s registered 21 goals at the time of writing. So the question posed is what has been the catalyst for this explosion in goals? The simple answer is that he no longer needs to facilitate Ronaldo and play second fiddle, but what does that actually mean?

Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema goals and assists since arriving at Real Madrid – La Liga & Champions League

When looking at Benzema’s goals a huge shift in the type of goals he has scored has occurred this season, he only managed to register five league goals in 2017/18. However, in 2018/19 he has managed to register eight by way of headed goals (La Liga), making him the second most prolific player in Europe’s top five leagues when it comes to headed goals. This means that 38% of Benzema’s goals have come via headed goals, a high percentage split that is not often associated with Europe’s elite strikers. Most interestingly, 6 of Benzema’s headed goals have come since mid-March.  So let’s take a look at why he’s had so much success in this area.

Head and shoulders above the rest of the pack

The first thing that jumps out is that half of Benzema’s headed goals have come from corners, as a result the analysis will be separated into two sections – corners and open play. As mentioned earlier, 6 of Benzema’s headed goals have come since mid-March. When viewed in the context of headed goals from corners, all four have come in this period. So what’s he doing that makes him so prolific?

Let’s take a look at his starting position for his goals. We can see that his starting position is often level with the penalty spot, in three of the four instances he is being marked man-to-man. What is noticeable in the instances when he is being man-marked is his positioning off the shoulder of his marker in order to be on the blind-side of his defender.

Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s starting position from the corner for headed goal vs Athletic
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s starting position from the corner for headed goal vs Eibar
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s starting position from the corner for headed goal vs Valencia
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s starting position from the corner for headed goal vs Valladolid

We’ve taken a look at his starting position, now let’s see where he is arriving when the ball is delivered in order for him to get the crucial touch.

Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s final position from the corner for headed goal vs Athletic
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s final position from the corner for headed goal vs Eibar
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s final position from the corner for headed goal vs Valencia
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s final position from the corner for headed goal vs Valladolid

As can be seen in the graphics there is a clear trend in the area that Benzema attacks with his runs, central to the goal on the edge of the 6-yard box. It is also visible to see how he uses the starting position off the shoulder of the defender to allow him to get across the defender in order to get to the ball first. There are not any elaborate routines used in any of these goals or clear blockers implemented in order to buy Benzema room.

Interestingly, three of the headed goals from corners have come since Sergio Ramos has not been present in the starting line-up. The central location on edge of the 6-yard box that Benzema is seen to be taking up is an area that is often associated with Ramos’ goals. A look at his goal locations highlights this, as it can be seen that a high proportion of his goals come around the edge of the 6-yard box, in particular, headed goals.

Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s goal locations in La Liga 18/19 – headers highlighted (created by Antonio Losada, @chapulana)

Let’s move on to look at the goals that Benzema has scored from open play. We know from his goal location map that they follow a similar trend in location, but how does he do it from open play?

Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s starting position from open play for headed goal vs Athletic
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s final position from open play for headed goal vs Athletic
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s starting position from open play for headed goal vs Eibar
Karim Benzema Tactical Analysis Real Madrid
Benzema’s final position from open play for headed goal vs Eibar

Once again we can see how Benzema likes to take a starting position off the shoulder of the defender. This means that the defender has to open up their body or check their shoulder frequently in order to be able to properly track Benzema’s movement and be able to react. From the images, it is clear to see how the defender’s pictured never fully opened up their body. As a result, Benzema decided to peel off the back of the defender and stay on his blind-side, managing to score on both occasions.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is clear to see that Benzema has been relishing playing as the main focal point within this Real Madrid side as seen by comments in the press. Part of this is likely due to the fact that his role has shifted and is no longer the supplier, taking up more central positions. This can be seen by his increased shot volume and goal tally in the league increasing from five goals in 17/18 to 21 goals this season. It is also interesting to see how he has excelled in scoring headed goals, in particular since mid-March when six of his eight headed goals have come. It is also intriguing to see how Benzema has stepped into the role vacated by Ramos in terms of set pieces with such impressive success.


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