At the beginning of the season when Liverpool signed Christian Benteke for £32.5 million there was a clear divide between those who thought the big Belgian would succeed playing in red and those who didn’t. He made a strong case for his arrival, scoring on his debut against Preston North-End with a bullet volley.
Nine months and one manager down the line and in his last 5 games, Benteke has played a combined 35 minutes. He didn’t feature in Liverpool’s unsuccessful Capital One Cup final despite only one shot on target being registered all game. This lack of trust in him by manager, Jürgen Klopp has seen Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi both return from injury and comfortably settle higher up in the pecking order.
It’s not that Benteke doesn’t have the quality to play as the main striker in a Premier League team as his record at Aston Villa would show. 42 goals in 89 appearances for the Villains almost averages to a goal every two games. Daniel Sturridge’s goalscoring record at Liverpool is 38 goals in 61 games but the difference is not the superior goal to game ratio. The difference between Benteke and Sturridge is that the latter is better in a high pressing system.
Klopp has said publicly that it is not enough for Benteke to score goals but that he also needs to contribute more to build up play and the way the team defends from the front. This is why Firmino started as a false nine in Sturridge and Origi’s absence. Benteke doesn’t seem lazy. It seems it’s more a lack of knowledge of how to press coupled with having the wrong physique. His build makes it difficult for him to race across the opposition back line and put pressure on centre-halves.
In Liverpool’s crucial win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, Benteke scored the penalty which secured the three points. I couldn’t help but feel just before he coolly converted the spot kick, that if he missed it would be difficult to make a way back into Klopp’s plans.
Amidst the recent exodus of players to China’s Super League there have been speculative reports that in the summer Benteke may be off to Asia. The man himself cleared all doubt by saying,”In my mind I was never thinking of a move. I didn’t want to leave. I’ve still enough ambition and enough character to fight in difficult moments. I don’t give up easily. I fight to the end. Sure, this is not the easiest of situations but you always have to be ready.”
Many supporters would readily take a return on what has been a waste of £32 million. Klopp has said in the past, on the subject of giving players a chance, that he won’t be ruling out anyone just yet and will give everyone a fair chance. This goes the same for Benteke’s compatriot, Mignolet who has been in poor shape this season.
Benteke has been overtaken by Roberto Firmino as the club’s leading goalscorer. The Brazilian has been in superb form since the turn of the year with Klopp moved him forward into the false 9 position. Part of a Benteke’s issue has been a lack of confidence and this will be worsened by having a player higher in the pecking who isn’t even a natural forward. If Klopp is to make the most out of Benteke whether it is off the bench or more regularly started it will be necessary to instil more confidence in him.
While scoring the winner against Crystal Palace will help in lifting Benteke’s spirits it will need to be fostered by Klopp especially if the German intends to continue playing the Belgian off the bench. Perhaps Benteke should look to come off the bench, work his socks off and try and score again. If he does that he will force Klopp’s hand and will deserve more game time.