Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has hailed striker Karim Benzema and said that Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2018 has helped the Frenchman become a more ‘complete player’.
Benzema, whose 41 goals this season have guided Madrid to their 35th league crown and to the brink of their 14th Champions League, has enjoyed his best ever season at the Bernabeu.
Decisive hat-tricks against both PSG and Chelsea in the last 16 and quarter-finals of the Champions League, respectively, set up a mouthwatering tie with Manchester City in the semi-finals.
Karim Benzema and Carlo Ancelotti during the Champions League semi-final against Man City
His two goals at the Etihad in the first leg kept Madrid in the tie, with his penalty in extra-time of the second leg proving the difference between the sides with Madrid running out 6-5 winners on aggregate.
Speaking in the aftermath of his side’s historic week that saw them clinch the league and make it to yet another Champions League final, Ancelotti hailed his striker who is the hot favourite for this year’s Ballon D’or.
Ancelotti told SiriusXM FC: ‘I have difficulty calling Benzema only a centre-forward because he’s a fantastic player that’s playing from the front.’
Ancelotti said that Cristiano Ronaldo’s (left) departure has allowed Karim Benzema to flourish
Before adding: ‘He’s not only a top scorer but he also provides assists for his teammates and partakes in the build-up of play.
‘He’s a complete player and for us, he’s really important because he scores so many goals.
‘He’s a top, top player and I think he’s the best right now.
‘It’s the same with [Luka] Modric. It doesn’t seem like he’s 36 because he still has the enthusiasm to play, the professionalism to be at the top all the time. They’re both really important for us.’
Carlo Ancelotti last won the Champions League in 2014 – with Madrid in Lisbon, beating city rivals Atletico Madrid
Ancelotti, who returned this season for his second stint as Real Madrid boss have previously guided the club to its historic ‘La Decima’ in 2014, went on to praise Benzema’s growth as a leader in the aftermath of Ronaldo’s departure.
‘I think Karim became a leader of the team when Ronaldo left because at that time he had more responsibility,’ he said.
‘Ronaldo was a player that was scoring around 50 goals a season and without him, Madrid had more difficulties to score goals.
Karim Benzema scored in the 2018 final after a shocking error from Liverpool ‘keeper Loris Karius
Karim Benzema’s extra-time penalty proved the difference between Real Madrid and City
‘Karim took on this responsibility and became more important for the team. But this squad has a lot of leaders.’
The showdown on May 28 between Liverpool and Madrid will mark the third Champions League/European Cup final between the two sides, with either side having won one each.
The first, in 1981, was also held in Paris – at the Parc des Princes, this year’s will be at the Stade de France – and it saw Liverpool run out 1-0 winners.
The more recent clash came in 2018, in Kyiv, when goals from Benzema and Bale saw Zinedine Zidane’s side claim their 13th Champions League crown.