The victory was more emphatic than the 4-0 scoreline suggested. While Sevilla did play well, Madrid were imperious, especially for the first 25 minutes. Los Blancos looked more deadly than they have done in recent weeks as they reigned nine shots down on Sergio Rico’s goal within that opening quarter of the game.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were lively, finding space and chances with ease all game long. The reason the two mega-stars could shine was that the least famous and least heralded member of their B-B-C attacking trio was back from injury: Karim Benzema started and supercharged Real Madrid.
No doubt Marcelo’s return from injury also helped. The Brazilian left-back is a wizard on the left-flank and his ability to start plays as well as provide support by surging forward on the overlap gives Real Madrid the kind of thrust from deep they are often sorely in need of when he doesn’t play.
But Marcelo has played before and Madrid have still struggled without Benzema. No matter what alignment of forwards Madrid put out, they can find no one to replace for the French striker. Benzema’s combination of glorious technique and a superb positional sense is transformative for Madrid.
Tonight, the visitors started the game brightly, showing an ambition that could have genuinely unsettled Real Madrid; and when Bale’s cross looked to be falling short of Benzema with five minutes gone, it looked like Sevilla’s gameplan was working.
Instead, Benzema adjusted his timing and struck the ball crisply as it kicked up off the turf. The Frenchman’s technique was perfect and the ball simply flew off his foot into the back of the net. Sergio Rico didn’t stand a chance and Madrid had doused Sevilla’s fiery start off before it could spread.
Madrid’s dominance began with Benzema’s goal, and didn’t stop until the final whistle. They put the ball in the back of the net four more times, though Gareth Bale’s first effort was ruled out for offside incorrectly. The Welshman’s second, a simple tap-in, was made possible by Benzema, who raced onto an errant pass from Ronaldo and with incredible awareness, scooped it over the onrushing goalkeeper for Bale to prod home for Madrid’s third goal of the match.
Two minutes earlier, Ronaldo made it 2-0 and effectively killed off the tie (soon after a Kevin Gameiro goal was incorrectly ruled out for offside). Ronaldo’s goal was a sweeping tap-in from a Danilo cross where he was able to slip in at the back post relatively unchecked.
That he could do so was down to Benzema making a near-post run and dragging defenders with him, which doesn’t happen when he isn’t on the pitch. The goal calmed Madrid but was also a huge relief for the Portuguese Ronaldo, who had blazed a penalty over the bar a few minutes earlier.
Benzema was involved in everything good that Madrid did. He facilitated his team-mates and threatened opponents. He was dynamic and hard-working and rightfully received a standing ovation from the Santiago Bernabeu when he was subbed off.
He’s always been a great team-player, but this year despite his injury woe, the Frenchman is quietly having one of his best ever individual seasons in a Madrid shirt. He sits fifth in La Liga’s scoring charts with 20 goals, behind Ronaldo, Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi and Neymar – but unlike all of them, all of his strikes have come from open play.
With his unselfish passing and movement and his superb vision and touch, Benzema is the ideal foil for goal-hounds Ronaldo and Bale. One could argue he’s the only way to get them both into the same side and have the attack retain any degree of balance and structure. Madrid are sure to be linked with many big name strikers this summer but it’s unlikely any of them would fit this attack like Benzema does.
La Liga may be gone, and they’re already out of the Copa del Rey, but if Real Madrid are going to stand a chance at winning their historic eleventh Champions League crown then Benzema is going to play an enormous role. He’s by far the least glamorous of the B-B-C, but he is unquestionably the trio’s M-V-P.