Should Christian Benteke be judged so harshly for slow start at Liverpool?

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In the summer transfer window, Liverpool fans called for their side to sign a striker.

During the summer of 2014, the Reds sold Luis Suarez and his loss was distinctly noticeable. Then-manager Brendan Rodgers failed to replace the Uruguayan and instead drafted in Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert, who both failed to fire on all cylinders.

Rodgers looked to right his previous mistake and in the summer of 2015 stumped up £32.5 million for Christian Benteke.


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Kopites called for a proven goalscorer and they were answered. Benteke arrived with a stellar reputation having scored 42 goals from 89 appearances for Aston Villa over three years whilst they battled relegation.

The Belgium international has been at Anfield for just over half-a-season now. There are some who aren't happy with Benteke's contributions and believe he has to do more when leading the Liverpool forward line.

Prefered tactics

The biggest criticism that many have of the ex-Genk striker is his movement.

At Aston Villa, Benteke was the main man that both Paul Lambert and Tim Sherwood revolved their team around. Their tactics was to play towards Benteke and get the best out of his attributes.

For the most part, Villa worked the ball into wide areas and got crosses into the box towards Benteke's head. The likes of Andreas Weimann and Leandro Bacuna were the providers a lot of the time, whipping balls into the box from the wing for Benteke to use his physical attributes to his advantage and bully defenders in the air.

There was good reason why some were sceptical when the signing of Benteke was announced. Within the last few years, several strikers who fit the same profile as the Democratic Republic of Congo-born forward failed to prove their stock at Anfield.

Andy Carroll, Balotelli and Lambert all did not settle at the Merseyside outfit. They all wanted balls into feet which they could play wide and go and get themselves into the mixer. They all could not adapt to the fast-flowing football at Liverpool and were soon uprooted.

Sherwood warned Benteke prior to his move to the Reds that he would not get the service he did at Villa Park.

"We cross more balls into the box than any other club in the league and Christian has said that he feeds off crosses,” Sherwood said.

“There’s no point going to a club where they don’t cross the ball. All he’s got to do is look at history and see what has happened to players who have left other clubs."

Lack of movement

Benteke's movement has been his biggest flaw at Liverpool. Alongside flair players such as Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino, they all want the man in front of them to make searching runs and create openings.

With the lack of movement, it becomes frustrating for the playmakers and they've often been forced to shoot from ambitious positions as it's the only option available.

Klopp has become frustrated with Benteke on the touchline on numerous occasions. When starting as a lone striker in December's away defeats at Newcastle United and most recently West Ham United he was well below par and offered his side little.

The German dropped Benteke for Liverpool's trip to Watford last month and when Martin Skrtel limped off injured, Klopp brought on his fellow countryman Divock Origi, with Benteke only emerging from the bench with 15 minutes remaining.

Following the game at Vicarage Road, Klopp had a heart-to-heart chat with Benteke, discussing how they could start working in tandem.

"Christian’s biggest strength is heading so everyone is waiting for crosses," the 48-year-old said before Liverpool met Leicester City on Boxing Day.

"But often in the Premier League you have two high towers, centre-halves, in the box so you can’t always wait for that. That is only one situation in offence.

"We need to create more moments for all our offensive players. We need to push up from centre midfield more and get into the box to create more opportunities. We need more movements together. That’s what I said.

"We have to try things, we have to create things, we have to change things because the number of games is a big difference."

In Liverpool's victory against Sunderland in their final match of 2015, Benteke's movement in the first half was not sufficient for the most part.

He was peeling off and dropping deep to look for the ball to his feet which meant that the Black Cats' centre-backs could easily mop up any loose balls given they had nobody to mark.

Following the match, Jamie Carragher pointed out Benteke's flaws in the match.

"We were watching Jurgen Klopp in the first half, and he was so frustrated with Benteke's runs, his movement, the positions he was taking up. A lot of the time he was in the wrong position."

However, it may be that Benteke is being judged too harshly.

Decent record

Granted, his price-tag meant that fans wanted an instant impact.

However, his goalscoring record isn't too bad on the face of things.

Benteke has scored seven goals from 21 appearances in all competitions this term. That's as many as Balotelli and Lambert managed to put together throughout the 2014/15 season and if he scores five more, it'll be as many as Balotelli, Lambert, Sturridge and Fabio Borini scored last campaign.

With Benteke having been the main man at a club for three years, it's natural that it's taken him time to completely change the style of his play.

Mesut Ozil has arguably been the best player in the Premier League this campaign. However, during his first two seasons at Arsenal following a hefty £40 million move from Real Madrid, the Germany international looked off the pace at the Emirates and could not gel with his teammates. Those days have been long forgotten and Ozil is a joy to watch and every side in the league wish they had his services.

Benteke's goals have won Liverpool nine points this campaign. Strikes against Leicester and Sunderland have kept the Reds with an outside squeak of finishing in the top four this term.

His goal against Leicester was a smart finishing when he had to stretch for Firmino's cross and his finish against Sunderland was based purely on striker's instinct when the ball fell kindly to him from Lallana's touch.

Klopp has few natural wingers currently at his disposal. With Lazar Markovic out on loan at Fenerbahce, the German only has young Jordon Ibe available for selection who is able to meet Benteke's demands.

Benteke was well below par against West Ham. James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna won both aerial duals and balls on the ground as if they were playing against an inexperienced 18-year-old.

Lack of confidence

Benteke is clearly short of confidence, despite netting twice over Christmas.

Against Leicester, he missed an open goal in the dying stages of the match, taking far too long to shoot which allowed Wes Morgan to make up ground. He also missed a good one-on-one opportunity against Sunderland when he took one touch too many.

Benteke had a similar spell at Aston Villa and before Lambert was sacked he had just three goals to his name during the 2014/15 season. When Sherwood took the reins at the Birmingham outfit, he looked a completely different player and scored 13 goals under Sherwood's stewardship, helping Villa avoid relegation and guiding them into the final of the FA Cup.

Sherwood cleverly based his team around Benteke to get the best of him. Although this may not be able to happen at Anfield, sufficient tweaks could be made. He looks to be a player who has to be brimming with confidence and has to have the full backing of his boss.

If Klopp can instate his self-esteem, Benteke could begin to show just what he is capable of. Hard work on the training field will be needed, but he should not be given up on just yet.

Should Liverpool look to offload Benteke? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!

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Christian Benteke
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