Christian Benteke – Liverpool’s Newest Main Man?
If ever there was a case for the result of an individual match being more important than the performance, look no further than Liverpool’s trip to Stoke City on the opening weekend of the Premier League. It was here that Brendan Rodgers’ side were roundly humiliated and dismantled by Mark Hughes’ team on the final day of the last league campaign, so to leave The Potteries with a hard-fought 1-0 victory and all three points to boot was a fantastic reward. While Liverpool’s biggest summer addition; Christian Benteke, may not have stolen the limelight with a display of fabulous strength and skill, his importance to The Reds on the whole should not be overlooked, either during this game in particular or the season ahead. I believe that soon enough, the bruising Belgian will cement himself as a key player for Brendan Rodgers, becoming one of the first names on the team sheet in the most high pressure matches.
If we are to look first at the recent game against Stoke City and contrast it against the 6-1 destruction in Steven Gerrard’s final appearance for the club, there is one glaring difference in my opinion which changed the fortunes of the match. Back in May, Liverpool arrived without a recognised striker and still had desires on dominating proceedings against a side who are nowadays both physically strong and also with some technically gifted players. Whilst there were clearly other forces at play too; namely some pathetic defending in the defeat and some slightly under-par displays by Stoke players in the more recent game, the presence of Christian Benteke up front was a huge help towards Liverpool’s cause.
Using his hulking frame to make the defenders’ lives a misery and forever giving them several problems to think about, he was an out-ball for the likes of Skrtel and Lovren all game. In a more precise sense too, Coutinho, Lallana and Ibe were always willing to feed Benteke as early as possible either from the flanks or through the middle. Having this option available caused Liverpool to play with a significantly greater level of unpredictability which made their attacks more potent. Of course, this was just a preview of the former Aston Villa striker’s Liverpool career and as understanding continues to build with his team-mates, I expect the currently subtle differences to become much more noticeable.
Now that Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers have been handed the good news of an imminent return to first-team action for Daniel Sturridge, it has become a pressing matter to consider the possible permutations of both the Englishman and Benteke functioning in the same line-up. It is a fantastically encouraging headache to have for Rodgers and his coaching staff, as the two frontmen offer so much to the side when fit and firing.
Apart from the occasional exception to the rule; Sturridge and Suarez were in fact one of these, it often takes a good few weeks together for strikers to develop a fruitful relationship on the pitch. The knowledge of each other’s tendencies when on the ball and the kind of runs they are likely to make will translate into an extremely dangerous partnership. With both possessing outstanding natural ability at a wide variety of the game’s subtleties, this is always a beneficial place to begin.
Simply by observing the two players, you can clearly see that Benteke will be more potent when crosses come into the box and acting as a lynchpin for the rest of the team to operate around. In contrast, Sturridge enjoys taking advantage of his fabulous acceleration and fast feet, stretching the opposition in behind and down the channels. While the Belgian is certainly not slow, he is no match to the former Manchester City striker when in full flight. As a result of this, the two forwards will hopefully not disturb each other’s natural rhythm too much on the field and instead, are able to benefit from the opposing characteristics. Both of them can come short towards the midfield or play on the shoulder of the last man but with different objectives in mind. The idea of a fully flourishing partnership between these two forwards is an exciting one for any Liverpool fan and a terrifying one for the rest of the Premier League.
It is my belief that Christian Benteke’s presence at Anfield will prove to be beneficial for Sturridge even when the two of them are not gracing the field of play at the same time. Firstly, the existence of another top-class striker will encourage Liverpool’s number 15 to continually push to improve in training, well aware that if he does not, it could be a while before he finds himself firmly in the first team picture. Furthermore, Benteke will undoubtedly score several goals over the coming months and years in Liverpool Red which in turn, takes the pressure off Sturridge’s shoulders. While he obviously does possess a deep-rooted injury problem, I believe that feeling as though he had to be scoring at an almost inhumane rate week after week will have taken its toll on his body. Now he has the confidence to rely on Benteke, perhaps allowing the signing from Chelsea to relax and express himself on the pitch.
Last season in particular, Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers almost always found it impossible to play with two strikers. This is primarily due to the lack of numbers and indeed the quality of those within the squad, but that is no longer the case. Christian Benteke has all the attributes to lead the line by himself but I can also see him flourishing with another forward in close proximity. Pairings with both Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings have the potential to function well due to the contrasting skills and abilities. While this is not necessarily the case for a partnership comprising of Divock Origi and Benteke; both possessing similar styles and attributes, the Belgian connection could well give the combination a head-start. In this way, the acquisition of Christian Benteke over the summer has opened the doors to tactical flexibility in the forward line like no other in recent times.
Brendan Rodgers may have splashed out the ground-breaking figure of £32.5 million on Christian Benteke this summer, but rather than be the transfer that would eventually spell his downfall; as a few have commented so far, I believe that the Belgian has the capability of transforming Liverpool’s manager back to legendary status amongst the fans. Great faith has already been demonstrated by the owners by backing Rodgers to the hilt in the transfer market. In my opinion, he has bought better than ever before this time around and the acquisition of Christian Benteke is the epitome of this. With the motivation to prove himself on the big stage and with some exceptional players around him, it is not impossible for Benteke to reach the levels hit by Fernando Torres and become the latest darling of the Kop.
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