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Real Madrid's top scorer this season does not play for Real Madrid. Instead, he is out on loan, at Rayo Vallecano, helping them battle relegation.
Raúl De Tomás has scored eight goals in just 16 La Liga appearances so far this campaign, one more than Karim Benzema. And he has done it in a struggling team. Rayo do not score many goals: over a quarter, in fact, have been scored by De Tomás.
It seems unusual to say that Real Madrid, wealthy and powerful, are desperately short of attacking options. But that is the situation they find themselves in. When Benzema was forced off with a wrist injury against Real Betis last weekend, manager Santiago Solari had to turn to 21-year-old Castilla forward Cristo.
Gareth Bale’s season has again been plagued by injury, and Mariano Diaz is also struggling for fitness. The focal point of Real’s attack, over the last few weeks, has been 18-year-old Vinícius Júnior, who has stepped up impressively but remains inexperienced. Real failed to replace Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer, too, and they are now clearly bereft of options up front.
It does not help that a prolific striker in De Tomás has been shipped out on loan. Real might not have expected to be hit so hard by injuries, but this still appears to be a case of poor planning. De Tomás cannot be recalled this season because no such clause was included in his loan contract.
Real will likely be regretting that decision. It is not as if the 24-year-old is an unproven quantity. He scored 24 goals last season as Rayo won promotion from the Segunda División, and the year before hit 15 while on loan at Valladolid.
De Tomás is now starting to find real form in the top flight, scoring four goals in his last three games. He hit a hattrick in his last match against Celta Vigo, and might have had four had another strike not been ruled out by VAR.
Clearly, then, De Tomás is capable of scoring in La Liga, even when playing for the side third from bottom in the division. At Real Madrid, surrounded by high-quality players, he would likely boast an even better record.
His stats this season, when compared to Benzema’s, look all the more impressive. De Tomás is scoring at a rate of 0.62 goals per 90, compared to Benzema’s 0.42. He averages 3.97 total scoring attempts and 45.6 per cent shooting accuracy, while Benzema averages 3.03 and 36 per cent.
De Tomás has proven himself a rounded and accomplished striker. He is, in the traditional sense, a poacher, but he is capable of scoring from range and possesses a powerful free kick. He is impressively two-footed, too.
Real Madrid might, understandably, feel they have missed a trick in sending De Tomás out on loan for another year. He has scored twice as many goals in La Liga as Bale, who was expected to step up in the absence of Ronaldo. And he has performed more consistently than Benzema.
De Tomás was with the Real Madrid squad during pre-season, but was offered the chance to go back on loan to Rayo when Los Blancos signed Mariano. “Lopetegui wanted me to stay but I'm not the kind of player who can spend a whole season on the bench,” the 24-year-old has admitted.
“I'm not thinking about going back to Real Madrid, it's the truth. I could have stayed, I have said it before. I know that competing like I am competing now is how to grow.”
De Tomás has reaped the rewards of his decision. Real Madrid, meanwhile, are left to wonder what might have been.