Karim Benzema’s sumptuous curler was Xmas present his 2021 deserved

Karim Benzema celebrates scoring against Athletic Bilbao, San Memes Stadium, December 2021.

Whatever happens over the final week of 2021, you can guarantee there’ll be at least one incident that will ‘sum up your year’. 

Maybe you’ll overcook the Christmas turkey, or forget to buy enough roast potatoes. Perhaps your journey back to your parent’s abode will be littered with delays, cancellations and rail replacement buses to Gloucester.

Or, as looks likely, your New Year plans will be cancelled by our indecisive excuse for a government.

You’ll notice all these hypothetical incidents are negative, reflecting how 2021 has been another struggle for most. But this sentiment isn’t universal.

Take, for example, Karim Benzema.

The 34-year-old has aged like a fine French Merlot, reinforcing his importance to Real Madrid with an avalanche of goals as the months have ticked by.

Benzema started the 2021-22 season like a runaway TGV, registering 15 goal involvements in his first six La Liga matches. He currently sits on 20 goals and 12 assists in just 23 matches across all competitions as Madrid have streaked away from their rivals.

He also earned a recall to the France national side after a six-year absence, scoring four goals at Euro 2020 and winning the UEFA Nations League in October.

But, if his ridiculous strike against Athletic Bilbao is anything to by, Benzema has saved the best until last. It was the strike that sums up his year.

With the game at the San Mames Stadium only three minutes old, Toni Kroos played a short pass towards Benzema.

Even though he was positioned just inside the Bilbao penalty area, there appeared little danger – goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala had his angles covered and there were seven defenders milling around the danger zone.

Ultimately, this provided all the security of the Maginot Line. Without taking a touch, or even a breath, Benzema wrapped his foot around the ball and curled an exceptional strike into the corner of the net.

Unstoppable. Agirrezabala was left with football pie all over his face by a strike of brilliant simplicity.

Benzema scored again just three minutes later, with Real Madrid going on to secure a 2-1 victory. Carlo Ancelotti’s side are now eight points clear of second-placed Sevilla.

But, more deliciously, they will end 2021 17 points ahead of Atletico Madrid and 18 in front of Barcelona. And this is largely down to Benzema’s exceptional form.

The French strike now has fifteen goals and seven assists in 18 La Liga games this season, as well as five goals in five in the Champions League.

Benzema was substituted late in the match on Wednesday and was given a standing ovation by the Basque crowd.

“That was fantastic,” said Ancelotti. “This is a stadium with a spectacular atmosphere. It’s a true football stadium and Karim deserved that [ovation].”

In truth, Benzema deserves an ovation for his entire on-field contribution in 2021. But his first goal against Athletic deserves some kind of statue, or being placed in a museum, too.

Quite the way to sum up his year, we’re sure you’ll agree.

By Michael Lee

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