Former Madrid partners Ronaldo and Benzema lock horns in the RSL

By the time Karim Benzema left Real Madrid in June, following 14 trophy-full years at the storied Spanish club, he sat second in their all-time goalscoring charts.

Benzema had struck 354 times for Madrid in the period dating back to 2009, when he landed as another high-profile addition to the Bernabeu in a summer headlined by them. Kaka, the prodigious AC Milan playmaker, had already arrived.

So, too, Cristiano Ronaldo. While Kaka’s spell at Madrid did not work out entirely, Benzema and Ronaldo went on to etch their names into the annals of the club.

Ronaldo Benzema Real Madrid

With Benzema concluding his time at Madrid second on that all-time list, Ronaldo perches proudly at its summit. Across nine years in the Spanish capital, the prolific Portuguese netted an astonishing 450 goals. 

The feeling is the record, especially as modern football dictates players lead a significantly increased nomadic life, might never be broken.

In tandem, Ronaldo and Benzema became one of Europe’s deadliest partnerships, across nine years together firing Madrid to five Uefa Champions League titles, two La Liga and two Copa Del Rey crowns, twin Uefa Super Cup successes, and three FIFA Club World Cup trophies.

Latterly with Gareth Bale in tow, they formed two thirds of the famed “BBC” trio: Benzema, Bale and Cristiano. Madrid had a front three the envy of world football.

Yet, with Ronaldo moving to Italy in 2018, and Bale falling out of favour at Madrid towards the conclusion of the decade, Benzema remained to usher in a new era at the club.

However, it did not signal the wind-down of his own career at the 14-time European champions. In the 2020-21 season, then aged 33, Benzema proved pivotal in Madrid’s league title success – his fourth with the club – snared the Champions League Golden Boot, and was named winner of football’s prestigious Ballon d’Or.

The French striker still held that title when he touched down in Jeddah in June, as the signature signing at Roshn Saudi League champions Al Ittihad.

It is here that his connection with Ronaldo has been reinstated. Once teammates, the deadly duo are now rivals - on the pitch at least. Ronaldo joined Al Nassr at the very end of last year, sparking the seismic revamp of the Saudi Arabian top-flight.

Former champions together, Madrid’s No.1 and No.2 for goals in history, each Ballon d’Or recipients – incredibly, Ronaldo has five – they will line up as opposing captains on Tuesday night when one of the premier fixtures in the division plays out at Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Sports City.

Where to watch Al Ittihad v Al Nassr 26 December

But, where their success was intertwined at Madrid, they arrive at the match in contrasting form. With 17 goals in 16 games this campaign, Ronaldo heads the RSL goalscoring charts. In one of the best individual runs of his career, he has lifted Al Nassr to second in the table as the season reaches its halfway point.

Benzema, though, has not had quite the same impact at Al Ittihad. The forward has nine goals in 14, not helped by niggling injury nor his team’s indifferent performances. 

Al Ittihad, fresh from last season securing that first RSL title in 14 years, are sixth in the current standings. They lie 12 points off Al Nassr, and another 22 back from leaders Al Hilal.

What Al Ittihad, then, would give for a captain’s contribution from Benzema on Tuesday. For Al Nassr, they will surely look to their own to continue what he has been doing: leading their title challenge from the front. 

No matter what, the Jeddah encounter throws up one of the standout match-ups of the year, another layer of intrigue attached with Madrid history-makers pitted against one another.

For some time colleagues, Benzema and Ronaldo stand now as competitors, on either side of what should be a gripping contest in Saudi’s second city. 

Bragging rights will be at stake, before the ex-teammates will surely share a warm embrace, reminiscing the good times having been reunited in the Kingdom.