The Tale of Christian Benteke and Why Crystal Palace Actually Do Need Him

The Tale of Christian Benteke and Why Crystal Palace Actually Do Need Him
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8.1 seconds into a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Gibraltar, Belgium had already broken the deadlock and Christian Benteke was the goalscorer.

These days though, give him 90 minutes, 180 minutes or even 270 minutes in the Premier League and he might even struggle to muster a single shot on target.

It’s almost unfathomable to think that Benteke’s stock could have fallen so sharply, but sadly that’s the reality for a player who was a formidable force in the early 2010s. If Aston Villa needed a hero to save them from defeat or to nick a winner, he was the man for the job – no questions asked.

FBL-ENG-PR-ASTON VILLA-NEWCASTLE

Now he’s dropped off the face of the goalscoring planet.

What’s more, to watch him play in the ​Premier League is an eerie sight. The big Belgian doesn’t seem distressed, embarrassed or fed up. Missing presentable chances doesn’t phase him. 

Harry Kane is much the same – he doesn’t mind missing. But then, England’s captain finds the net pretty regularly as well as missing the odd chance. 

He’s a rampant goalscorer in exactly the same way that ​Benteke isn’t.

Benteke made himself known as a regular goalscorer at Kortrijk, Mechelen and Genk in his native, Belgium. He had come through the Genk system but then been sold. When he returned for a single season in 2011/12, he started just 20 games all season, hammering in an impressive 16 goals and even contributing nine assists along the way.

Christian Benteke

With the utmost respect to the Belgian Pro League, he was ready to move to bigger and better things.

He started the 2012/13 season still at the club, scoring three times from five games for good measure, before ​Aston Villa offered him his big break. In return for £7m, Villa got their hands on a red-hot striker that then-manager Paul Lambert would describe as ‘unplayable’ after scoring from the bench on his Premier League debut against ​Swansea City.

With brute force, muscle, strength, intelligence and craft, his debut campaign in the Midlands yielded 23 goals in 39 games.

He’d lived up to the promise. The question was, would second season syndrome kick in?

Christian Benteke

In a way, yes. His second campaign was good but Benteke failed to deliver on a consistent basis, netting 12 less goals than he had in his debut season. He did, granted, play in 11 less games and he also handed in a transfer request – one that was promptly turned down by Lambert.

Injuries played their part and he was even ruled out of the 2014 World Cup after rupturing his achilles tendon.

After three pretty successful seasons goal-wise for Villa, Liverpool came calling. Benteke went to Merseyside.

Headlined by his famous overhead kick against Manchester United, he made a promising start to the season under Brendan Rodgers, only to see the Northern Irishman sacked and replaced by Borussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga conqueror Jürgen Klopp in October 2015.

Christian Benteke

Few strikers in world football are less suited to Klopp’s fast, wing-focused, expansive style of football than Benteke. A very average season wasn’t good enough for one of England’s most successful clubs, and a move away was the only logical step.

Crystal Palace were the team to offer Liverpool their money back on Benteke and things looked good after a productive first season. But the wheels then came off his south London bus, and since then he’s seemed unable to do anything right.

Across the last three terms (albeit the current campaign is still unfinished, as far as we know), Benteke has scored five Premier League goals in 67 matches. No wonder he’s so often the butt of the joke on social media then, right? Shouldn’t Roy Hodgson have sold him years ago? No.

Christian Benteke

It might not ‘seem’ like it, but, Benteke offers some vital attributes that a team like Crystal Palace certainly need. 

The Eagles are not relegation fighters season on season, it would be unfair to call them that. The lowest the club have finished during Benteke’s four seasons is 14th, all credit to Palace fan and former player Roy Hodgson, in charge for three of Benteke’s years at Palace.

And yet, there is no way the club’s unique style of football would work without a big dominant number nine like Benteke. Palace’s play isn’t methodical and pensive; it’s highly dependent on tireless and skilful players on the flanks. Patrick van Aanholt, Andros Townsend, Jeffrey Schlupp and of course ​Wilfried Zaha spring to mind.

Wide players like these can’t impact play when cutting inside without having players to bounce the ball off. Not only is Benteke that man, but he holds the ball up well, only releasing it when one such lung-busting runner is doing just that. Winning aerial duals is also a speciality of his, knock-downs to wingers or Jordan Ayew regularly come in useful.

Christian Benteke

No Premier League defence would ever be so stupid as to leave an imposing striker like Benteke unmarked – meaning he’s constantly dragging players away and freeing up space for more technically adept teammates.

What Benteke brings to Palace is more nuanced than what he brought to Villa. Nuanced or not though, he still adds something to a Premier League outfit. For that he should be praised not sniggered at.



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