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“I don’t think he’s good enough to build a team around.”
This was Michael Owen’s half time assessment of Christian Benteke, and for once, I agree with him.
Owen was speaking during Liverpool’s defeat at West Ham, where Benteke produced another poor performance.
There have been flashes of brilliance; the thundering header against Norwich, the overhead kick against Manchester United.
Rare flashes, however, simply aren’t enough from a striker who cost £30 million; a striker who has already been playing in the Premier League for several years. Benteke, and Liverpool, have been inconsistent throughout the season.
The common argument is that Liverpool don’t play to his strengths. Jurgen Klopp is unlikely to ever play a long ball game, and Benteke has shown nothing which justifies tailoring a philosophy to suit him.
The dilemma is that Liverpool look worse off when Benteke is in the starting line-up, and that is worrying indeed. Benteke’s work rate has been criticized, and rightly so. The Belgian frontman looks static and unwilling to break his neck to get into the box.
He constantly appears to be on the back foot, or a yard off the pace. He is often caught offside.
Benteke is a physical, imposing man, but James Collins bullied him on Saturday. That should not happen.
Before Saturday’s defeat at West Ham, Benteke had scored the winner two games in a row, but that has just papered over the cracks. He doesn’t offer enough over 90 minutes. Despite scoring the winner against both Leicester and Sunderland, his hold up play, work rate and finishing were largely poor.
He has creative players behind him, and he has had plenty of clear cut chances.
Goals alone simply aren’t enough, and it is not as if goals have been abundant. Giroud, Kane, Aguero, Ighalo. All offer so much more in their all round play than Benteke.
Benteke’s static nature is also affecting the players behind him. Coutinho and Lallana play much better when they have a striker who is willing to play the channels and run in behind. Coutinho in particular thrives off early, incisive passes and willing runners. The clever movement of Sturridge or Ings opens up space for those behind them, and pressing from the front puts Liverpool on the front foot.
Benteke offers none of these attributes. Benteke himself revealed that he had a frank conversation with Klopp recently about improving his work rate, and the Belgian conceded that he “had to run more.”
Some may argue that it is Benteke’s first season, and that he deserves more time and opportunities. As it stands, however, Benteke is arguably fourth choice as striker at Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Danny Ings are all better suited to Klopp’s style of play, and provide more movement, pace and endeavour.
With Liverpool’s long injury list, this is Benteke’s chance to cement his place in the side. He has done the opposite.
The fact that Benteke’s opposite number – Andy Carroll – was far superior on Saturday will only deepen the fans’ frustration. Some might even feel that this is a repeat of the Carroll situation all over again, and that Benteke is not suited to Liverpool at all.
Klopp will surely bolster his striking options either in January or the summer, and where will that leave Benteke? As a £30 million fringe player?
Michael Owen has identified Klopp’s biggest dilemma.
He could be useful as an alternative option from the bench, but will that be enough?
He is only 24, but unless Benteke drastically alters his game – or his attitude – or Klopp alters his entire philosophy, the Belgian won’t have a lasting career at Anfield.
by David Smith