A grin spreads out throughout Rodrygo's face. Waiting the training pitch at Valdebebas, he is discussing his Real Madrid colleague Karim Benzema, the four-times European Cup winner 13 years his senior citizen who "constantly talks to me prior to games" and "helps us a lot, on and off the pitch", someone "I constantly try to listen to", when he is asked: So what's the very best suggestions he has ever provided you? The response is instant. "To play the ball to him," Rodrygo responds. There is laughter, however it is sound recommendations. "Every time I offer him the ball, it works out," he says.
In the 96th minute of the semi-final against Manchester City, Rodrygo played the ball for Benzema, providing the cross from which Real Madrid got the penalty that could put them in the Champions League final and secure another absurd return. The Brazilian had scored two in a minute to take them to extra time and Benzema offered him the penalty to complete his hat-trick. "No, you need to take it, Karim," Rodrygo replied. "Well, naturally: after the season he's been having ..." he said afterwards.
It was the best thing he could have done. As for the season Benzema is having, it is hardly believable: no one has actually marked a Champions League campaign quite like this, possibly ever.
Standing at the north end of the Bernabéu, Rodrygo ceding him the ball and the responsibility, Benzema scored much as he had actually carried out in Manchester, where he had dinked in a Panenka-- a brave however thoroughly prepared action to having actually missed 2 penalties in 7 minutes at Osasuna six days previously. Scored in the 82nd minute to make it 4-3 to City, that had actually been the minute that gave Madrid hope for the second leg. "We're going to do something magic: we're going to win," Benzema had actually vowed. Now he could guarantee they did, the place going wild when he scored, which they knew he would.
Sound advice certainly: provide the ball to Benzema. Even when he attempts to offer it to you. Which, uncommonly for a striker, he does typically. That he offered the ball states much about him; that they had actually even got that far owed much to him. In Manchester, Benzema had actually scored after half an hour with City 2-0 up, the game slipping from them. Against Paris Saint Germain, they were 1-0 down at home, 2-0 on aggregate, when he hit a hat-trick. Another hat-trick followed at Stamford Bridge. Then came the 96th-minute winner in the second leg against Chelsea. Now he scored in the very same minute against City.
It was his 15th goal in this season's Champions League, 2 off the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2013-14 when Benzema provided for him. He has scored in every knockout game he has actually played-- injured, he was absent in Paris-- accounting for 10 of Madrid's 14 goals since the group stage. 3 against PSG, three against City, 4 against Chelsea. He finished as top scorer in La Liga, on 27. Plus 12 assists. He has 44 goals in 45 games this season.
" There are no words to describe how he plays," Vinícius Júnior states. "He's a great, great player; he's my brother." When it was put to Carlo Ancelotti that Madrid had Karim-dependency, he responded: "Yes. There's no problem saying we depend upon Benzema; we can't deny it. We depend on Benzema: that's the way it is. It's a reality-- and a good thing. I'm pleased to depend on a player like him."
If you're going to rely on someone, let it be a man who doesn't simply use a higher plane at the moment however seems to exist on one. "K9 is Superman", the former Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas tweeted. "K9 is Wolverine. K9 is the concierge in your building. K9 is your best good friend. K9 is your granny. K9 is the parachute trainer you throw yourself out of an aircraft with. K9 is your guardian angel. K9 is God!"
Ahead of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Raúl, he is the second-highest scorer in Madrid's history. He has 323 Madrid goals, which's after 7 years not taking a penalty. Just Lionel Messi and Ronaldo have more Champions League goals. But it is not almost the goals. He is the very best No 9 worldwide, Casemiro states, but Ancelotti admitted "calling him a forward seems like it stops brief to me". Zinedine Zidane as soon as stated: "People discuss Karim as a pure No 9, a 9 and a half, a 10; for me, he's a little bit of whatever."
For several years, in reality, it wasn't about the goals at all, the idea he could end near the top of those charts not actually pondered, including by him. The striker who got 11 league goals in 2016-17 and 5 in 2017-18 has 21, 21, 23 and 27 since. A minimum of in part since he needed to. Or, perhaps, was permitted to. Naturally, 2018 was the year Ronaldo left, the man he had served. "I had this person together with me that scored 50 a season," Benzema said. Of Ronaldo's 457 goals, Benzema assisted 47, and even that does not actually show his role as facilitator.
" Karim is more complete than five years ago," Ancelotti said after going back to Madrid last summer. The coach has thrown in the towel at times, lacking superlatives and not knowing what to say, whether there's anything he can include. "He's like wine, much better all the time, with every year," he declared. Physically, Benzema is better than ever; mentally too. There is a self-confidence, a calm, an assuredness about him, almost zen. "He's more of a leader, he feels more crucial which makes the difference; he has more character," Ancelotti states.
More acknowledgment too, the goals making a case for him, which becomes self-perpetuating, the level raised all the time. "Players who assist make their teammates better do shine, and with a special light," the former Madrid manager Santiago Solari firmly insisted, in defence of his player, but goals increase the glare. Ilkay Gündogan stated: "He was undervalued in the past; now he's showing his critics wrong. For a long time he remained in Ronaldo's shadow, particularly in the press, and now he's getting the attention he should have."
Luka Modric states: "I'm delighted for Karim. Now everyone else realises what we have all known for a very long time. He's an enjoyment to have fun with: his understanding, his motion, his ability to break down opponents."
Much has been made from Benzema's evolution into a striker, although it may not be a lot about him developing into a striker as including that role to his game. Forget being a centre-forward; Benzema is a footballer; he plays, and unlike anybody else.
" For me, Karim hasn't changed at all-- not," Casemiro firmly insists. "Now we're discussing him as the very best 9 worldwide, about the Ballon d'Or. The only thing that has changed is his relationship with goals. He's scoring more but his understanding of the game, his everyday, his quality, his way of seeing the game, is the exact same. The only thing remains in other years it was Cristiano or others who scored."
One of the important things that sticks out about him is his ability to disappear, slipping out of the move just to slip back in once again. More typically than in the past, that permits him to provide the finish, however that movement he constantly had-- the understanding of when to abandon area and allow others in from which Ronaldo benefited so much-- stays central to his game. "He's really, very crucial: he scores the most goals and we constantly attempt to look for him," Rodrygo says. "But he's likewise essential for those of us on the wing since he comes out and we can go in to attempt to score. He offers a great deal of support too. He's a remarkable player."
Asked to list the qualities that specify Benzema, one opposition manager sends out a quick profile, in bullet points:
An understanding of play that few forwards have (constantly chooses the right option).
A capacity to integrate and create overloads.
Hard to repair with a marker, and from there the timing to appear and finish.
The technical quality to do so.
Makes his colleagues better.
Above all, Benzema makes them win, his level now beyond anybody, anywhere: a man to give the ball to, a man to depend on. Well, typically. Before the game at Stamford Bridge, he could not find his accreditation and had to go back and search for it. "I stated to him: 'Hurry up or you can't play!'" Ancelotti revealed. "Luckily, he discovered it in the end.".