A drab El Clasico ended in a goalless stalemate between Barcelona and Real Madrid on Wednesday night. Leading up to the game, there was a lot of hype surrounding it as it normally is for this fixture but considering how poor Real was, it felt like a casual La Liga outing. Benzema was the main target man expected to deliver goals for Madrid and of course his struggles not surprisingly meant Madrid were only destined to suffer (upfront) on the night too.
Both teams were level on points at the top of the League and the stage was set for any team to make the first real title statement. An epic battle was on the cards but unfortunately, that was not to be the case.
Over the years, part of the reasons why the El Clasico has remained football’s most-watched fixture because of its reputation of having the two best sets of players in the world going up against each other. A match that comprises of two teams that are regulars at the latter stages of the Champions League and have players who are Ballon d’Or candidates.
In the past decade, these two teams have presented the most nominees for the golden ball, the most golden ball winners and the most team of the year selections.
Three years ago when you mention the top players in the world in each position, at least 60% of your team will have players from either of these clubs but the times are changing.
When the FIFPro world eleven was released earlier this year there was such an uproar on the number of Real Madrid and Barcelona players there with good reason too and it will be hard to remember such happening in selections prior to this one.
Not too often do you see Real Madrid winning the midfield battle in a Clasico but that was the case on Wednesday night as Barcelona were unable to keep possession of the ball for long periods. As a matter of fact, the 52% was the lowest percentage of possession Barcelona have kept all season at home (Whoscored) and it was testament to an effective game-plan by their rivals in the press.
Real Madrid looked more dangerous in the game and were the better team for large parts but as far as goal scoring opportunities go, both teams lacked any real creativity and never really looked like scoring.
Real had a Gareth Bale goal disallowed for offside but apart from that they were only good for half-chances and two long-range attempts from Federico Valverde who was arguably the best player on a pitch that featured several world beaters and one Lionel Messi.
They had an XG of 0.84 which means that the chances they created were unlikely to create any real goal threat. A metric which was backed up by the efforts or lack of it thereof, from the Madrid attackers.
It is a problem that stems from one simple fact – that Real Madrid don’t have enough goal threat.
Saying this about a team that has scored six goals in a match this season sounds ludicrous but the term “goal threat” in this context is by manner of personnel.
They have scored 33 La Liga goals this season which is the second highest in the league and Karim Benzema on his own has scored 12 and assisted five of those (Transfermarkt) which amounts to 17 goal involvements for the Frenchman. That is half of Real Madrid’s goals coming directly from a Benzema goal or assist.
Apart from Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao who have the two best defences in the League, no other team with less than 20 goals are in the top half of the La Liga standings which shows how impactful Benzema has been for his team this season.
Center back Sergio Ramos is the second-highest goalscorer in the team with three goals which is a worrying statistic. With Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale in and out of the side due to injury issues and Luka Jovic not playing enough games to suggest he will be for enough to step up if need be, Real will be in deep trouble if Benzema sustains an injury.
Among Europe’s top five leagues this season, Real Madrid ranks 11th on the list of top-scoring teams in Europe with the likes of RB Leipzig, Atalanta, Leicester City, Lazio and Borrusia Dortmund finding the back of the net more frequently. With respect to those teams, they do not have the financial muscle that the 13-time European Champions possess but they can boast of a better attack even on paper.
Almost all the teams above them have more than one player who has five or more League goals or goal involvements this season other than their top scorer. This means they can afford to rely on other options when need be but Real have had to put all their hopes on one player.
Lucky for them, Benzema has great durability and is rarely injured so there is a chance they may be able to continue to ride his form for as long as it takes especially when they possess a defensive structure that can help them see out matches and secure tight leads.