It is widely acknowledged that Liverpool are looking to bolster their forward options this summer, having seen the likes of Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert woefully try to compensate for the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona last summer. The recently departed Steven Gerrard top scored for the Anfield outfit last season, his tally of nine a lowly figure for a team with Champions League aspirations.
Attacking Brazil international Roberto Firmino has arrived from Hoffenheim with high hopes that he'll make an immediate impact, whilst the recruitment of England U21 international Danny Ings and returning loanee Divock Origi further add to the forward options. With Balotelli, Lambert and Fabio Borini all strongly linked with moves away, the sage surrounding Raheem Sterling's future and Daniel Strurridge's ongoing fitness demons, the Reds are expected to make at least one more forward acquisition this summer.
One man strongly linked with a move to Anfield is Aston Villla's Christian Benteke. With a reported buy-out of £32.5m, Benteke would represent a significant outlay, but is the 24-year-old the right fit for Liverpool? GMS decided to analyse the statistics...
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The overwhelming argument for Benteke being a success at Anfield is that, simply, he scores goals. Since his arrival in the Premier League in the summer of 2012 only three players, Sergio Aguero, Suarez and Robin Van Persie, have scored more goals than the giant Belgian. His tally of 42, despite a serious ankle injury which ruled him out of the 2014 World Cup, leaves Benteke slightly ahead of the likes of Wayne Rooney and Olivier Giroud for goals scored in that time period.
Benteke's goal-scoring exploits are all the more impressive in that they have come in a struggling team. His 13 league goals in the 2014/2015 season accounted for 41.9% of Villa's total goals, a tally only inferior to Charlie Austin's 18 league goals which accounted for 42.9% of relegated Queens Park Rangers tally. It was a similar story in 2012/2013, where Benteke's 19 league goals provided 40.4% of Villa's total, a league high.
Style of play
Ok, so he scores goals and aged 24 should have his best years ahead, but would he adjust to Liverpool's style of play? The Anfield crowd have seen this before, a tall, powerful forward signed for an astronomical fee only to be frozen out having failed to adjust to the intricate, short, passing game associated with a Brendan Rodgers side.
Andy Carroll, anyone? So why would Benteke succeed where the giant Geordie failed before him? At 190cm and 83kg, Benteke offers a considerable physical threat, but it is worth noting that just three of his 13 league goals last season came with his head. His technical ability may go unnoticed, but a glance back at his free-kick against QPR last season shows that the forward is more than just an aerial threat.
Villa boss Tim Sherwood, when speaking of Liverpool's interest said: "We cross the ball more than any other team in the league and Christian has said he feeds off crosses.
"There's no point going to a club that doesn't cross the ball."
Liverpool did in fact put in fewer crosses than any other team in the division last season, although with the 170cm Sterling playing the majority of the season as a makeshift forward, that tally is perhaps understandable. Villa, despite Sherwood's claims, ranked 12th in the league for crosses. Perhaps most surprising is that is that Liverpool put in on average just three crosses fewer (17) than Villa (20) per game last season.
Despite claims of a clash of styles it is perhaps Benteke's presence in the air that is of great appeal to Rodgers. Liverpool ranked 19th for aerials won with 15% last season, ahead of only Swansea City, whilst their tally of just six set-piece goals ranked them 18th in the Premier League. Their defensive unit were often suspect to set-piece deliveries last season and the height and presence of Benteke in both boxes could prove a valuable asset next season.
A further argument in support of the move would be the increase in quality of service the striker would have of which to feast upon. Villa averaged just 11 shots per game last season, ranking them 18th in the division. Liverpool's average of 15.5 was only bettered by Manchester City and Arsenal. Supplied by the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Firmino and Adam Lallana, few would bet against the Belgian continuing his prolific goal-scoring exploits at Anfield.
That is not to say that Benteke would categorically be a success. His pass success rate last season was just 66.7%, way down on the Aston Villa average of 79%. Liverpool's average success rate was even higher, 82.8%, so the forward's ball retention must significantly improve to adapt. The striker must also adapt to the high intensity, pressure game implemented by Rodgers at Liverpool.
For a player of Benteke's physique, this may not come naturally, but as Liverpool found when deploying Mario Balotelli in a lone striking role the intensity must start from the front to avoid having a detrimental effect on the team as a whole. A positive on that note, however, is that both Villa and Liverpool ranked in the top five for high intensity sprints last season, so the adaptation may not prove to be as radical as first feared.
Whether Rodgers and his recruitment team decide to match Benteke's buy-out clause remains to be seen. The Sterling situation may be holding up any further business for Liverpool as things stand. For those fearing a clash of styles and another expensive mistake in the transfer market, the statistics offer some hope. Statistics can only tell us so much, however, time will tell the rest.
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