Ronaldo’s high-profile move to Juventus in 2018 left Real Madrid in desperate need of a new focal point in attack, with fans afraid the club’s success would dwindle without the star striker.
Karim Benzema has since come to the rescue, with 52 goals and 18 assists in 92 games, while bringing much-needed stability and composure to an attack in transition.
Under Benzema’s leadership, attacking prodigies like Vinicius Jr and Marco Asensio continue to flourish, while his presence has helped high-profile summer signing Eden Hazard slowly find his feet at the Bernabeu.
Despite his undeniable class the four-time UEFA Champions League-winner has been plagued by criticism since joining Real Madrid in 2009 - often by unrelenting supporters who demand more than 244 goals in 504 appearances from their number nine.
But Benzema is not just a ‘goal every other game striker’ – his contribution to Real Madrid’s success has been invaluable over the past decade, with 133 assists and selfless positional play, which allowed Ronaldo and co. to shine.
Zidane once described Benzema as ‘the best number nine in the world’, but in the unrelenting world of stats and numbers, his contribution is too often overlooked for strikers with a better goals per game return.
One takeaway from Liverpool’s remarkable success under Jurgen Klopp is that strikers can (and should) be defined by more than the goals they score.
Take Roberto Firmino, a forward who has only exceeded 20 goals in a season just twice in his career, yet remains widely-hailed as a critical cog in Liverpool’s sensational attack.
By comparison, Benzema has cracked 20 goals in eight of the last 11 trophy-laden seasons, recently surpassing Ferenc Puskas in fifth on the club's all-time goals list - all while enduring constant blowback from his critics.
Perhaps guiding Real Madrid to its first league title since 2017 without Cristiano will be enough to silence the critics and finally cement Benzema’s place among the club’s all-time greats.