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From ‘unplayable’ to blunt instrument — the Christian Benteke story

19 goals in his debut Premier League season but just three from his last 43 appearances

Unplayable.

That was word Paul Lambert used to describe Christian Benteke after the Belgian’s Premier League debut.

Having signed from Genk in the summer of 2012, the 21-year-old exhibited his key attributes in his first outing for Aston Villa, bullying Ashley Williams and displaying excellent composure to score after coming off the bench.

“An absolute threat”

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“An absolute threat”

The confidence derived from his successful debut fuelled an impressive campaign.

Only Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale scored more Premier League goals in 2012/13 than Benteke.

At 6ft 3in, the Belgium international gained a reputation for emphatic headers and unrelenting physicality, but he was no mug with his feet either.

His 19 goals ensured Villa’s survival as the Midlands club finished 15th with 41 points.

This narrative repeated twice more as Villa narrowly avoided relegation in 2013/14 and 2014/15, largely thanks to Benteke’s goals.

Pulling his weight and then some

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Pulling his weight and then some

After three seasons at Villa Park, the hulking centre-forward boasted 42 goals from 89 league goals — an admirable record when you consider the club’s status in the league at the time.

And so he earned a £32.5million transfer to Liverpool in the summer of 2015 as the Reds sought a prolific replacement for Suarez.

Many thought Benteke would be a success for Liverpool in the same way international team-mate Romelu Lukaku had at Everton.

A sensational overhead kick against Man United endeared him to fans early on — though the goal was overshadowed by Anthony Martial’s debut goal as Liverpool lost 3-1 to their rivals.

But Jurgen Klopp’s appointment – and injury troubles – turned him into something of an outcast at Anfield.

A familiar sight

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A familiar sight

The German coach implemented his ‘gegenpress’ approach that worked so well at Borussia Dortmund and Benteke simply did not fit the required profile for the central forward in the new system.

Along with Jordon Ibe, he was Liverpool’s most-used substitute in the league as it became obvious he was very much Klopp’s ‘Plan B’ option.

Even so, Benteke’s singular season on Merseyside was not as disastrous as many perhaps remember.

Ten goals in all competitions represented a respectable return for a player starved of minutes befitting his reputation.

The timing of the transfer was just ill-fated, as Klopp’s philosophy transformed the club’s direction just two months after Benteke had been signed as Brendan Rodgers’ target man.

Not meant to be

PA:Press Association
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Not meant to be

Crystal Palace recognised an opportunity to poach a player with a proven record for bottom half clubs and broke their transfer record to recruit the Belgian in August of 2016.

After a slow start, he benefited from the momentum and sharpness generated by regular starts to end his first season at Selhurst Park with 15 league goals.

From Christmas onward, he possessed the swagger of the fearsome Villa powerhouse who had taken the league by storm.

Since then however, his confidence has plummeted.

A series of squandered chances increased the pressure on him last season to the point where he either snatched at routine finishes or rejected prime shooting opportunities altogether.

His goalscoring form has fallen off a cliff

Reuters
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His goalscoring form has fallen off a cliff

This morale slump has continued this term, possibly facilitated by Roberto Martinez’s (justified) decision to omit Benteke from Belgium’s World Cup squad.

Since the start of 2017/18, Benteke has scored just three goals in 46 appearances for the Eagles.

The rise in popularity of xG (expected goals) has not been kind to him either — no player has underperformed in this regard more than Benteke since the start of last season.

Palace fans deserves credit for supporting their striker during these lean times — they are vocal in their appreciation for his efforts.

But most want more from him, especially when you consider how reliant Palace have been on Wilfried Zaha to provide the attacking spark in recent times.

At 28 years old, physical decay is not yet an issue for and so the solution could be as simple as a goal.

Just one goal to restore his self-belief and give Roy Hodgson a reason to congratulate his striker.

The ‘unplayable’ goalscorer is surely still there somewhere — it’s just a matter of coaxing him out the confidence sinkhole.


NEXT: Dream-killer Eden Hazard and echoes of The Slip™ — Liverpool’s judgement day awaits

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