Hierro: Real's Benzema worthy of Ballon d'Or and Golden Ball

Benzema has been leading the line effectively for Real Madrid since the departure of Ronaldo in 2018, but has exceeded expectations with his showing this campaign.

Benzema has scored 42 goals for Real Madrid this season.   -  AP

The curtains are about to fall on the current La Liga season and Real Madrid has taken centre-stage amidst all the accolades after winning its 35th League title. 

Spain’s top-flight football has an early champion but the scope of a last-minute twist should not be ruled out and La Liga legends Fernando Hierro, Luis Garcia, Gaizka Mendieta, Marcos Senna and Guti, in a media interaction, said that the league still has a lot to offer in terms of excitement and quality football. 

"La Liga is still La Liga and the best thing is that we have two of our teams in the Champions League semifinals like the Premier League," said former Real Madrid midfielder Guti.

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The Los Blancos supremacy

Carlo Ancelotti became the first coach to win the league title in all of Europe’s top-five leagues after his recent success with Real Madrid. 

Real has reflected the spirit of champions throughout the season- be it its never-say-die attitude or brandishing its effective attacking football. While the white army has caused havoc in the league this season, one man has been leading the attack right from the front- Karim Benzema. Benzema has 26 league goals this season and he is not done yet. 

“Karim is an extraordinary player. Guti has played with him. When I was the second coach to Ancelotti, I have seen with my eyes what an exceptional player he is," said Real Madrid legend and former captain Hierro. "He connects very well with his mates. When Cristiano [Ronaldo] left, no one expected Karim to score that many goals but I think he surprised all of us. I think he is completely worthy of the Ballon D’Or and the Golden Ball."

 

The overachievers

La Liga has seen spirited fighters in teams like Sevilla and Real Betis this season. While Sevilla looks to be on course to finish the season in third, above last season’s champion Atletico Madrid, Manuel Pellegrini has worked wonders with his Betis side. Its Copa del Rey victory and current fifth place in the table are indicative of the stellar work Pellegrini has done over time. 

“We have seen teams like [Real] Betis, Sevilla and Villarreal impress this season. Real Madrid is the champion, yes, but there is still a lot to play for in the league, especially in terms of Champion League positions,” said Hierro.

Former Villarreal player Marcos Senna believes that conventional small teams are making giant leaps in the world of heavyweights. “Last year we [Villarreal] won our first major title, the Europa League. This season, we are playing the Champions League semifinal. There are plans of renovating the stadium. So, the transformation is happening,” said Senna.

Atletico’s woeful title defence

Atletico Madrid defending its La Liga crown was never a certainty but being 20 points behind champion Real at this stage proves what a harrowing season it has been for Diego Simeone and his men. 

Given ample backup last summer with players like Rodrigo De Paul, Matheus Cunha and the return of Antoine Griezmann, the Atletico side failed to deliver.

Last season's champion Atletico has had a season to forget. Photo: REUTERS

 

Former Atletico player Luis Garcia shared his opinion on what went wrong for the Los Colchoneros this season. “Atletico [Madrid] has performed at a high level for the past years, mainly due to Simeone. But this has been a complicated season. They have not managed to establish a certain style of rhythm in the competition,” he said.  

“[Diego] Simeone has tried to change the team from being just defensive solid to one which creates chances from midfield and be more fluid. This, I feel, has somehow affected the identity of the club. The attackers I don’t think have understood Simeone’s message and failed to make the required transitions.”

The Barcelona story

Barcelona has had an unpredictable season. Amidst its deep-rooted financial issues, the arrival of Xavi sparked a renewed sense of hope among supporters. 

The Blaugranas have made a magical recovery throughout the season and are currently second on the table. An effective January transfer window, which saw the arrival of players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ferran Torres and Adama Traore was a major reason for the mid-season revitalisation and Xavi’s ability to maintain a balance between promoting La Masia youth and reviving veterans has bode well with the club.

Barcelona suffered a Europa quarterfinal exit at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

 

While a 4-0 thrashing of rival and eventual champion Real was a highlight of the season, a Europa quarterfinal exit at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt raised doubts about the team’s consistency. 

“The team [Barcelona] has recovered some of its former identity. Homegrown players like Pedri, Gavi and Nico Gonzalez have been promoted and nurtured, which is important for a club like Barcelona. 

"The team should just continue with the philosophy, which can sometimes get lost with too many foreign signings. Xavi has done well to induce some of it over time but unfortunately, it was not enough this time to win the title. New signings are needed and Xavi knows that but the club is also going through a difficult financial situation. I feel the club is doing well but all the changes won’t happen overnight,” said Garcia, when asked about his take on Xavi’s influence on the current Barca team.

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