Real Madrid to focus on rebuilding its attack after losing Benzema
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema claps to supporters during the Spanish La Liga football match against Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Sunday, June 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid goes into the offseason knowing it will need to boost its attack after losing Karim Benzema and other forwards.

Benzema, the team’s top striker in recent seasons and last year's Ballon d’Or winner, decided this weekend that he will not be back after 14 years at the club. His last game was on Sunday, when he scored in a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao on the final day of the Spanish league.

Also not returning next season are Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio and Mariano Díaz, leaving the club with few options in attack.

“That’s where we have to act and we’re going to do it without any rush,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We have time to do it without any rush. We’re looking for a striker who can score goals and link up well with the others.”

Ancelotti said the club wants the profile of a striker who can team up well with Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo, the young Brazilian forwards “who are starting to take a more leading role” in the squad.

“At the moment we only have two forwards, but I’m not worried at all because we have all the time we need to sort it out,” Ancelotti said. “You win games with and without forwards. Forwards are more likely to score, but what makes the difference is when a team plays solidly, compactly, with effort and as a team.”

Harry Kane is among the strikers reported to be on the list of candidates to replace Benzema, the 35-year-old Frenchman who is expected to play in Saudi Arabia.

“His departure has come as a surprise to everyone, but we understand it,” Ancelotti said of Benzema. “It was a last-minute decision. Yesterday (Saturday) he trained normally and today (Sunday) he’s taken this decision. We have accepted it.”

Benzema scored Madrid’s lone goal against Athletic by converting a second-half penalty kick. Ancelotti immediately substituted Benzema, who received a standing ovation from the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

“He’s thought it through and his decision is part of the transition of this club, which continues and will continue next year,” Ancelotti said. “We have time to reflect on what we have to do. We’ll have a competitive squad next year.”

Ancelotti said the club had wanted Asensio to stay but the forward decided it was time to leave. He said Asensio “preferred a change of scenery.”

Two other players have received offers to renew their contracts but have yet to decide whether they will stay — defender Nacho and attacking midfielder Dani Ceballos.

Two veteran midfielders have their contracts expiring — Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham is reportedly among the midfielders wanted by Madrid, whose salary bill will go down considerably following the departures of Benzema and others.

Madrid finished the season with three titles — the UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Copa del Rey. But finished second in the Spanish league, 10 points behind champion Barcelona and lost in the semifinals of the Champions League.

“The season has been good and I’m convinced that next year will be better,” Ancelotti said. “Now we’ll come back on 10 July with even more motivation, enthusiasm and desire.”

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