After a remarkable 2021-22 season that puts him in contention for the Ballon d’Or, Toni Kroos feels Karim Benzema has “perfectly” replaced Cristiano Ronaldo’s gap at Real Madrid.
This season, Benzema has 44 goals from 45 appearances in all competitions, which is 12 more than his previous high for a single season.
Similarly, his record of 0.98 goals per game is comfortably the best he has managed.
Add a haul of 15 assists, and Benzema’s 59 goal involvements are second only to Kylian Mbappe (60 – 39 goals, 21 assists), highlighting just how much of a double threat Los Blancos’ talisman has been.
Among his goals have been some critical scores. He scored hat-tricks against PSG and Chelsea in the Champions League before scoring three times against Manchester City in the semi-finals.
He has not always been Madrid’s leading man in attack, with Benzema speaking openly in the past about having to sacrifice his output for Ronaldo during their time together at the Santiago Bernabeu – he scored just five league goals in the 2017-18 season, for example.
But Kroos admires how the Frenchman has stepped up.
Kroos told ZDF:
“It wasn’t easy to become an even better player.
“I’ve seen him for eight seasons in different roles. Not in other positions, but in terms of his jobs on the pitch.
“There were times when he had to pull the bandwagon with his goals and others in which he used to look more to his right and left.
“Cristiano scored 50 goals per season for us, and Gareth [Bale] was also on the left in his best years. So those two pillars fell from us.
“Others came like Vinicius [Junior] or Rodrygo, who is evolving very well, but we couldn’t cover Cristiano’s 50 goals with just one player until Karim took on that role to perfection.”
Saturday, the game will be the third European Cup/Champions League final between Madrid and Liverpool, making it UEFA’s club showpiece’s most common match-up.
Although Madrid won LaLiga with four matches to spare, there is a consensus they have exceeded expectations in the Champions League, particularly given they have had great escapes in all three knockout rounds.
Despite that, Kroos does not necessarily consider Liverpool’s favourites, even if he does accept they have been Europe’s best this season.
He added, looking back to Madrid’s 3-1 final victory in Kyiv:
“Honestly, I think this Liverpool is a better team than in 2018.
“They managed to retain their best players, and they signed a few more.
“Thiago [Alcantara] sets the standards in midfield, they are still solid at the back, and I think that.
“In terms of record, they were the best team in Europe this season.
“But it’s still just one game, and you also have to consider that we eliminated them last season in the quarter-finals. So it’s 50-50.”
He continued: “In a Champions League final, you give everything, especially considering that we already had to give everything on more than one occasion to reach the final.
“Now we’re there, and we want to win the cup, yes, all aware of the great rival we face.”
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