Analysing Christian Benteke's role in Crystal Palace's first win of the season
Crystal Palace secured their first victory of the season and it was needed to relieve the pressure on Alan Pardew, who has had a disastrous 2016. He would have been sacked at many other Premier League clubs, but Palace have continued to show faith in him and it looks like they may be rewarded for doing so. During the summer, the club paid roughly £27 million to bring Christian Benteke to South London and he looks to be a perfect fit to lead the line for the Eagles.
The Belgian arrived with a damaged reputation after a disappointing 12 months with Liverpool and it was a major statement from the board at Selhurst Park to bring him to the club. Pardew no longer has any excuses as he has been provided with the striker that he desperately wanted and the early indications are that Benteke could save his new manager’s job.
He is a great fit for Pardew’s system as the former Newcastle manager tries to play counter-attacking football. It has always been the style that suited the players at the club, with Palace being synonymous with quick, dynamic wingers since returning to the Premier League. However, they haven’t had a player that is able to play the striking role effectively. For the system to be successful, it requires a forward that can hold up the ball, link up play and score 15+ goals. Benteke’s performance on Saturday showed that he can do all three.
The most important part to the role is dominating in the air and the former Liverpool striker won nine of his 15 aerial duels. A target man in such a set-up is required to not only win aerial duels, but to guide headers to the feet of a team-mate, giving his team a chance to attack. Benteke is excellent at using aerial presence effectively and provided the focal point that Palace have been lacking.
Crucially, he scored the opening goal, as he moved to the back post and emphatically headed past Victor Valdes. The finish was a relatively simple one as the cross from Wilfried Zaha gave the defenders no chance, but the striker’s movement showed a goal-scoring instinct that has been missing at the club for a long time. He sensed that there could be an opportunity for a cross and moved into the right position to apply the finishing touch. It was great awareness and showed why the club paid £27 million to sign him.
His pass success rate was low at 63%, but that is expected given the role he was carrying out. The main positive from his link-up play was that whenever he received the right service, Benteke made the ball stick in the attacking half and was rarely dispossessed after getting the ball under control. There was an attacking move in the first half that showed the quality that he brings to the role. He received the ball with his back to goal in the penalty area, but instead of trying to turn and shoot, he chose to play the ball back to Andros Townsend. His team-mate was in a better position and it showed the maturity that the Belgian possesses.
The Crystal Palace manager has wanted a striker of Benteke’s calibre since arriving at the club and he now has a squad that plays to his strengths. There aren’t any weaknesses in the first eleven and Pardew will never be given a better chance to succeed at a Premier League club. Based on Saturday’s performance, the 25-year-old is going to significantly improve Palace and provide the cutting edge that has been lacking. A top ten finish is now well within their capabilities.
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