Tall, powerful, graceful and dynamic, all words used to describe Christian Benteke in his first season in English football. After a wonderful start to life at Crystal Palace following a disappointing season with Liverpool, The Gist takes a look at whether the Belgian is an underrated gem, or an average overachiever.
When a relatively unknown Christian Benteke arrived at Aston Villa in the summer of 2012, no on envisaged how much he would be a hit in the premier league, the Belgian striker adapted like a duck to water, as he scored 19 league goals despite Villa ending the season 15th in the league.
Benteke did not stop there as he notched a combined total of 23 goals in 56 games in his next two seasons at Villa before his much criticized £32 million move to Liverpool.
Then Liverpool head coach Brendan Rodgers spoke of the guarantee of goals being the main reason for the acquisition of Benteke.
Most fans expected Benteke to be used as an aerial threat taking into consideration Liverpool’s high intensity game. Perhaps the reason why he was later sidelined by current coach Jürgen Klopp who preferred Roberto Firmino in a false 9 role that allowed the likes of Lallana and Coutinho to play off him.
In the end the Belgian registered a career low 9 goals in the league in 29 appearances though 15 of those came as substitute. However, one key thing that both Klopp and Rodgers did not consider, was that despite Benteke being an aerial threat, a considerable amount of his goals came from his feet with an Aston Villa side that usually played on the back foot.
In arguably his best season, 15 of Benteke’s goal came off his feet with 4 coming off his head. He often had to make the most of the few chances he got in games. With a shots per game ratio of 3.1, Benteke still thrived keeping his goals per game level at an impressive 0.56. a low 2.8 shots per game ratio with Liverpool proved Liverpool’s insistence not to direct play at him but to play through their dynamic attacking midfielders resulting in a low 0.31 goals per game ratio. (www.premierleague.com / www.whoscored.com ).
According to WhoScored.com, flickons and layoffs are a major factor of Benteke’s style of play. His willingness to get involved in the game was something that was overlooked at Liverpool. In his best season at Aston Villa, Benteke had a total passes figure of 1142(33.5) as compared to a low 516(17.5) at Liverpool. This left him with a chances created average at Liverpool of definite 0, while he created 11 in 2013 at Villa.
So the question remains, was Benteke underused at Liverpool or did he fail to show the dynamism needed by Klopp at Liverpool?
The Gist’s thoughts:
‘ Just as Mario Balotelli before him, Liverpool failed to play with a direct 9. Balotelli may have arrived with a somewhat unimpressive reputation but Benteke arrived with all the stats backing him. Only Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku had a better goals per game ratio at one point and Liverpool ought to have played to his strengths considering the £32 million that they paid for his services. It doesn’t make sense to buy a big player and not try to accustom a game around him. Brendan Rodgers spoke of having tactical flexibility after signing Benteke but he clearly didn’t seek to do that.’
After a disappointing season at Anfield and with no future assurance of a starting berth Benteke decided to head out after Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace came calling.
Speaking about his move from Liverpool Benteke said the coming of Klopp echoed his departure calling his last few months at the club a ‘’losing battle’’.
‘He had a particular system and I did not fit in. It was up to me to find a solution. These are the things that happen in a career. There are no regrets.’
He added that he ought to have made more of the chances he had at Liverpool no matter how limited.
Benteke took the transfer like a man and is now seeking to rediscover the form that lifted his name among football’s elite.
So far this season, the Belgian looks to be back to his best scoring three times in his first six games with Palace.
So what’s Benteke’s secret?
Simple, give the ball to Benteke and let him do the rest.
Benteke is thriving in the number nine role at palace, the insistence of Pardew to have Andros Townsend and Wilfred Zaha feed direct balls into the Belgian’s path has more often than not resulted in the ball ending up in the back of the net. The Belgian has had 19 shots at goal with three resulting in goals, his goals per game ratio is back up to an impressive 0.5 and his international form is benefiting as he scored for Belgium in the recent world cup qualifiers. Benteke has won an impressive 9.93 aerial duels as compared to 3.3 in the league at Liverpool.
So what’s the Gist?
Benteke is clearly on the way up and if he can keep doing what he’s doing at Palace, he may just prove his doubters wrong, the question as to whether he is an under achiever or an overrated player will only remain to be seen by how this season will go.
Story written by Maxwell Ndhlovu
Assisted by Mwansa Lengwe
Charly & Zuga of The Gist OWG
Maggie Kadansa Sansakua