As expected, Lionel Messi won his fifth FIFA Ballon D’or. Which to be honest has become something of a popularity contest than anything else. It’s basically a bunch of nobodies (the journalists who inexplicably get to vote) trying to get some attention by awarding individual awards for what is essentially a team sport.

Lahm certainly thinks so and many other have pointed out it’s shortcomings periodically in the past as well. But that’s not what we are going to discuss here.

What we are going to discuss is that Benzema, was ranked number 1 player in the world by Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale. That generated some buzz in the media and the very next day the official website of Real Madrid put out a post celebrating Benzema’s best ever return of goals, 18 from 18 games. That was, by the way, just behind Ronaldo’s count.

Now that Real Madrid has been handed a ban for two transfer windows (well let’s not jump ahead of ourselves here, Real Madrid is likely to appeal and who knows what Perez can cook up there), it is perhaps fitting that, with little chance of any new galactico signing, we recognize Benzema as Real Madrid’s most valuable player. At least for this season.

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema (R) kicks the ball past Malmo's Uruguayan defender Felipe Carvalho during the UEFA Champions League Group A football match Real Madrid CF vs Malmo FF at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on December 8, 2015.  / AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU        (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Benzema can hurt any team from any position. Left foot or right foot. It’s all there.

Undoubtedly, without his goals Real Madrid would not have been behind Barcelona by five or six points. Realistically speaking, the deficit could have been in double figures.

With Zidane as the manager now, there is a high probability of Real Madrid finally getting the best out of Benzema (and Bale too) at the exact moment when Benzema seems to be in his prime.

Evidence from this season suggests that Benzema’s first touch has improved even further and now he is able to take more shots on goal than before. And shots taken on goal, is an immensely valuable asset for any striker in any league.

But Benzema has gone beyond subjective opinions about him becoming a better player on the field with time at Real Madrid. He has backed his improvement with cold hard statistics.

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema (L) celebrates a goal during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF vs RC Deportivo La Coruna at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on January 9, 2016.Real Madrid won 5-0.  AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN / AFP / GERARD JULIEN        (Photo credit should read GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Ronaldo finishes. Benzema creates.

Benzema has scored lots of goals this season and he has scored them at one apiece every game which is, if you are not Ronaldo and Messi, absolutely mindblowing.

It is even more astounding because Benzema doesn’t come across as the type of player who wants to finish off moves. He is more of a creator striker than a scoring striker.

But interestingly, even with his mindset, he has been able to score goals with great regularity this season and to be fair to him, he has been scoring over 20 goals every season for about six seasons now and if it weren’t for the otherworldly performances of Messi and Ronaldo, Benzema, for sure, would have had more recognition for his efforts while playing as a striker for Real Madrid.

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema (L) kicks the ball during the Spanish league football match Valencia CF vs Real Madrid CF at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on January 3, 2016.   AFP PHOTO/ JOSE JORDAN / AFP / JOSE JORDAN        (Photo credit should read JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Confidence. Benzema thrives on confidence and that has been the difference this season for him.

Benzema also has been busy with his usual stuff, apart from scoring goals that is. As France national team coach Deschamps said, that Benzema isn’t the kind of striker who they expect to score goals every game.

His playing style is vastly different to any other striker in the sense that even when he isn’t scoring goals, he is very effective on the field. He runs a lot and sets up people to have a go at the goal more than he likes to score himself.

That quality is indeed rare and is probably the reason why Benzema is in his 7nth season with Real Madrid. Not many players have put on the famous white shirt for that long, playing as a first team regular.

Apart from setting up goals for the likes of Ronaldo and Bale, Benzema has set himself apart from all other Real Madrid players by scoring crucial goals. Goals against the likes of Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and even against Deportivo last week, gave Real Madrid big breaks at sensitive moments in the game. Without those goals, Real Madrid would not have made it to third place in the La Liga table.

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema catches the ball during the Spanish league football match Villarreal CF vs Real Madrid CF at El Madrigal stadium in Villareal on December 13, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / JOSE JORDAN / AFP / JOSE JORDAN        (Photo credit should read JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Even with his injuries, he has been able to perform every time he has stepped on the field.

With the exception of Barcelona, against whom Benzema is usually so ruthless, Benzema bailed out Real Madrid against every team in the Champions League and the league. And he would have delivered the goods against Barcelona as well had Benitez picked his starting eleven a bit more sensibly but one can always put the blame on Perez for forcing managers to play the players he wants on the field.

And let’s not forget that fact that he had just come off a long injury lay off against Barcelona and couldn’t have possibly been match fit against a side that closes you down within seconds no matter where you get the ball.

Evidently so, Benzema looked half a pace behind everyone else, even Real Madrid players, in that game. That is another reason why Real Madrid fans should be pumped up for the return leg against Barcelona later this season, assuming Benzema and seven other first team players don’t get injured all at the same time as happened in the first leg in the league, because this time, hopefully, Benzema and co would be match ready rather than barely fit.

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 09:  Karim Benzema of Real Madrid outjumps Pedro Mosquera (5) and Sidnei of Deportivo La Coruna (12) to head at goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on January 9, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Wow. Benzema certainly has been taking leaping lessons from Ronaldo.

Benzema is Real Madrid most important player for another reason and that is, as Messi fans often like to point out when comparing the Argentine man with Ronaldo, the value he bring with him when he steps on the pitch.

He blocks off passing lanes from the front and that leads to opponent’s back four giving away possession in critical areas. Benzema also has become a bit of playmaker from deeper positions this season.

His distribution has improved twofold and now heads the ball with regular accuracy. All that adds up to the attacking threat that is Benzema. Now along with Ronaldo and Bale, opponents have to watch out for Benzema as well when defending from set pieces.

As if that wasn’t enough, Benzema’s form as, sort of, rejuvenated the once devastating partnership that was the BBC. Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo combined extremely well against Valencia a couple of weeks ago and Real Madrid were indeed unlucky to not have won that game (but it wasn’t so bad in the end as that lead to Benitez’s departure and let’s be honest here, who didn’t want that?).


Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match Valencia CF vs Real Madrid CF at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on January 3, 2016.   AFP PHOTO/ JOSE JORDAN / AFP / JOSE JORDAN        (Photo credit should read JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Benzema has stepped up his game to another level this season.

Benzema makes Ronaldo and Bale (and in turn Real Madrid) tick. He holds up the ball really well for Bale and Ronaldo to make either darting runs inside the box or along the wings and that allows Real Madrid to move from defense to attack swiftly enough to be lethal.

Real Madrid’s defense has always been shaky but there is always a silver lining. That weak defense, pushes opponents to go for the kill against Real Madrid and as a result, that opens up spaces at the other end where the speed of Bale and Ronaldo can be murderous.

Benzema is the focal point of Real Madrid’s attack and if Real Madrid win any trophy this season, it would largely be because of Benzema’s form and Ronaldo’s (maybe Bale’s as well) goals.

With that said, how does Benzema rank against Suarez and Neymar?

As always, I am all ears now.