Christian Benteke : Looking For Redemption At Palace
It was never supposed to end like this. Christian ‘Tekkers’ Benteke will reflect on his time at Merseyside with mixed feelings. He arrived on a high to Liverpool after his best ever season as a professional footballer and leaves the club at perhaps, the lowest point of his career. The fact that so few clubs in the league were prepared to meet Liverpool’s valuation of him either reflects how poor his form has been or how high high as risk he is viewed by managers and the people in charge of the purse strings.
After months of speculation, Crystal Palace emerged as the Belgian’s suitor. Though truth be told, they seemed to be the only one in for him. A rumoured bid by West Brom never materialised meaning despite an initial cheeky bid from Palace, their status as the only club interested in Tekkers meant they were his one-way ticket out of Liverpool. Often when a player fails to have the expected impact at a club, the post-mortem analysis focuses on, among other thing, the player's playing style vs. that of the team he joined, his relationship with the coach, his injury record during his time there, any off the field distractions that could have impacted performances and the hard to quantify, confidence.
At 6 ft 3, it is hardly surprising that he thrives in a system where he can play to his strength in the air. During his three seasons at Villa, the sight of Benteke latching onto a cross whipped in from wide and slotting the ball past the keeper into the net was a rather common sight. The young Belgian striker was also a force to be reckoned with at set-pieces where he made a habit of outmuscling defenders to slot the ball into goal. His aerial ability also proved useful when defending set pieces on more than one occasion as well. Whilst not blessed with speed, he could ramp it up over short distances when he had a clear sight of goal. His penchant for unleashing spectacular goals on grand occasions distinguished him from your archetypal big man who only knocked in headers, was a nuisance to defenders and had a poor touch. When the former Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers agreed to pay £32.5M for his services, the feeling then was that Tekkers would be able to adapt to Liverpool’s short-passing game. He however found it difficult to adapt to Liverpool’s playing style and under both managers, Rogers and Klopp, he had to settle for a role on the bench.
Both Klopp and Rogers were very diplomatic when discussing Tekkers in the press — he was still a part of their plans but needed to improve his performances to merit a starting berth. The rise of his fellow countryman, Divock Origi last season saw the young forward move ahead of him in the pecking order. Shorn of Sturridge’s services because of injury, Klopp preferred to play a false 9 formation or have Divock lead the line. To his credit, none of his coaches at Liverpool had ever, publicly at least, complained about his attitude nor did any of his teammates.
Throughout his Liverpool career, the Belgian frontman suffered two major injuries which saw him ruled out for a total of 13 games. For comparison, Daniel Sturridge missed 33 games during the same time period. The Belgian was relatively healthy during his Merseyside stay, but unlike Sturridge, was never one of the first names on the team sheet during his time there.
Benteke secured his big move to Liverpool on the back of his 42 goals in three seasons for Aston Villa, confidence in front of goal was never an issue for him as at an early age, he shouldered the goal-scoring responsibility at Villa. With his goals accounting for 41% of Villa’s goals during his time there, anyone who doubts his impact should remember that without him, Villa battled relegation and eventually dropped down to the Championship last season. In his last 10 appearances for Liverpool in the Premier League, he scored 3 goals and had 1 assist. Now before dismissing this, bear in mind he only played a full game once during this period and also suffered a ruptured lateral collateral ligament tear which saw him miss five Premier League games. He is still, at the very worst, a serviceable striker who can contribute some goals. At his best, and this is what Pardew and Palace hope they are paying for, he is one of the best strikers in the League.
At 25, his career is far from over and he has an opportunity to reach the heights he did at Villa with Pardew. He walks into the team, assured he will be starting and the focal point of their attack. In Townsend and Zaha, he will be flanked with pacy wingers who can get past their markers to aim their crosses at him. His 45min appearance debut for Palace last night gave him an opportunity to get a run out with the team. He failed to score but the the signs look promising. As mentioned in our staff prediction preview, should Pardew somehow find a way to unlock Tekker, he will be one of the players to keep an eye on this season. A key player for the 2016/17 Premier League season has taken the first steps on his redemption journey.