Amid the wreckage of Real Madrid’s season, there are one or two players who can stand up tall and say they did their best.
One of the very few footballers whose reputation has been enhanced in a shocking campaign which is effectively over by March has been Karim Benzema.
The forward struck twice to help a stuttering Madrid to an eventually easy 4-1 win over Real Valladolid at the Jose Zorilla Stadium on Sunday, making a game that started off tricky, comfortable in the end.
Valladolid coach Sergio is no stranger to inflicting misery on Real Madrid, having been part of the Deportivo La Coruna team which triumphed at the Santiago Bernabeu in the 2002 Copa del Rey final.
Madrid had been founded 100 years to the day beforehand, but Sergio’s Depor earned a stunning 2-1 win over Madrid – for whom Santiago Solari was playing.
And it seemed he was going to pile on more woe for Madrid after a week in which their entire season collapsed.
Valladolid earned a penalty early on, with Alvaro Odriozola haplessly dragging down Oscar Plano in the area. However, midfielder Ruben Alcaraz punted it high over the crossbar with one of the more outrageous spot-kick misses in recent years.
Moments later and the hosts, battling relegation, had scored.
Sergi Guardiola, who was brilliant but endured an extremely frustrating night, scored but the goal was disallowed by VAR, after Keko was half a yard offside in the build-up.
The forward then saw another goal ruled out, this time offside himself by a similar distance.
Eventually, Anuar sent Valladolid ahead and this time it counted, but it also seemed to arouse Madrid from their miserable slumber.
Raphael Varane equalised to send the teams in level at the break, but in the second half, Madrid found some of the skill and quality which deep down they have, but has stayed buried too often this season.
Odriozola made amends for his first-half mistake by winning a penalty and Benzema slotted home to send Los Blancos ahead.
Real Madrid have scored every single one of the 12 penalties they have been given in all competitions this season.
Meanwhile, Valladolid have missed all five of the five they were given. A shocking statistic which will be one of the reasons they may eventually go down – sitting 16th, one point above the drop zone.
Madrid, meanwhile, may be missing Cristiano Ronaldo in many ways but at least they have not lost out when it comes to spot kicks.
Ramos, Bale and Benzema have been dispatching them and at trying times like these, even tiny victories must be cherished.
That’s why Benzema celebrated vociferously as he headed in his second goal of the night because he had a point to prove.
Luka Modric criticised the club’s forwards and strategic planning before the humiliating Champions League knock-out by Ajax, saying that Benzema, Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Co. were doing a bad job of covering for Ronaldo’s departure.
“Cristiano scored 50 goals and you can’t find someone today who scores that many,” said Modric.
“Some of us have to take a step forward and, while not scoring 50, what we need is two or three players who score 15, 20, or 10 goals and we don’t have that.”
However, with his brace here, Benzema took his tally to 22 goals in 44 matches, a respectable total, and more goals than he has scored since the 2014-15 season.
Only three times in his Madrid career has he scored more goals, with 32 his largest haul, in 2011-12.
Modric rattled in the fourth in the final stages, at least pulling his weight too, as Madrid moved 10 points clear of Alaves in fifth – despite Casemiro’s late red card, remarkably his first for Madrid.
Now they are looking downwards, trying to ensure they finish fourth, rather than upwards.
That is where Madrid gazes deserve to be for the most part this season, with the exception of Benzema, who can hold his head up high.
Receive Alerts on: Whatsapp: +23408155666332, Twitter: @cianews FB: @CIANEWS
Share your story with Email @firstname.lastname@example.org