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Christian Benteke returns to haunt Liverpool whose charge for Europe falters

Martyn Cooke

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Christian Benteke came back to haunt Liverpool as his two goals helped to edge Crystal Palace closer to safety whilst also potentially scuppering Jurgen Klopp’s push for Champions League qualification.

The Belgium forward cancelled out Philippe Countiho’s first half free kick with an emphatic close-range finish from Yohan Cabaye’s driven cross before netting the winner with a powerful header from Andros Townsend’s miss-hit corner.

There was no manic celebration from Benteke against his former club and the Anfield crowd grudgingly but sportingly gave the 26-year-old a round of applause when he was substituted in the closing moments.

It was a well-deserved moment of appreciation for a player that had failed to shine during his short spell with Liverpool but had produced a match-winning display upon his return.

An unhappy spell at Anfield

One of Brendan Rodgers’ last meaningful acts as manager of Liverpool was to purchase Christian Benteke from Aston Villa for a fee of £32,500,000 in the summer of 2015.

The Belgian had flourished in the Premier League with the struggling Midlands side and had proven to be a regular goal scorer whose power, pace and strength made him perfect for leading the line in the physically demanding world of English football.

However, Benteke’s time at Anfield was far from positive and, when Jurgen Klopp replaced Rodgers midway through the 2015/16 season, the writing was very much on the wall for the striker.

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Klopp decided that the 26-year-old did not fit his vision of high intensity football and the forward was very rarely selected to start league fixtures.

The general perception was that Benteke simply did not possess the attributes required to become a key component of the new look Liverpool that the former Borussia Dortmund manager was looking to build and implement at Anfield. The Belgian never lost his ability, it was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Unsurprisingly, Liverpool chose to cash in on their out of place striker and Benteke was sold to Crystal Palace for £27,000,000 in the summer.

Making a point

Christian Benteke made his point to Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool supporters in general with his match winning display on Sunday.

Strong, powerful and a constant threat, the Liverpool back four never looked comfortably dealing with the Belgian’s attacking prowess.

Dejan Lovren appeared completely unable to deal with his former team mate and had no answers to the attacking questions that Benteke was posing.

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The striker demonstrated tremendous desire to latch onto Yahan Cabaye’s drilled cross before any defender could react to score the equaliser whilst Liverpool’s inability to defend corners was once again exposed when the 26-year-old grabbed the winning goal mid-way through the second period.

The result practically guarantees that Crystal Palace will secure their Premier League status for another season, a feat that will go some way to rebuilding Sam Allardyce’s battered reputation following his controversial stint as manager of England.

Leading The Eagles’ to survival is an impressive achievement and Benteke has been a vital part of the team’s revival. For Liverpool, a loss on home soil puts a severe dent in their hopes for Champions League qualification.

That is now 14 goals in the Premier League for Benteke this campaign, a total that no Liverpool player has been able to match. Klopp may well be wondering if he could have done more to fit the imposing Belgian forward into his new look side.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved Gordon Judge (Gordon Judge)

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Crystal Palace

Three potential England replacements for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

The Liverpool midfielder has been ruled out of the summer’s World Cup.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

It looked bad for Liverpool and England when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was stretchered off during the first half of the Reds’ game against AS Roma in the Champions League and their worst fears were confirmed on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old has suffered a knee injury, which will keep him out of the rest of the season and this summer’s World Cup.

This is incredibly harsh news to take for the midfielder, who had been playing the best football of his career under Jurgen Klopp.

Last summer, he made a huge career decision as he chose to leave Arsenal to join top-six rivals Liverpool and, in hindsight, it has been a great move for him.

His influence and consistency have stood out from the centre of the park and England would have benefitted from that in Russia.

However, Gareth Southgate needs to readjust quickly and find a suitable alternative to the Liverpool midfielder.

Here are three players that could replace Oxlade-Chamberlain and receive a World Cup call this summer:

Ruben Loftus-Cheek – Crystal Palace

The injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain has opened up an opportunity for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will now have a chance of making the plane for Russia.

The midfielder has impressed at Crystal Palace and he delivered an assured performance against Germany on his international debut. Although injuries have hindered his progress since he remains one of the only dynamic midfielders available to Gareth Southgate.

Against Germany, he completed 96.2% of his passes and completed four successful dribbles. There were a lot of people that thought the call came too soon, but he looked at home on the international stage and he will be unknown to a lot of the teams England are due to face.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was going to provide the power and pace in the England midfield. Loftus-Cheek may not be as experienced as the Liverpool man, but he can step up and perform a similar role. If he can finish the season strongly, he will have a great chance of making the squad.

England Training Session And Press Conference

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Jonjo Shelvey – Newcastle United

There are growing calls for the Newcastle United midfielder to be called up by Gareth Southgate and they will only increase with the news of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury.

Shelvey won’t be able to step into the same role, but he can provide different qualities and could be a worthy selection for England.

Newcastle’s recent surge up the league table have shown Shelvey in a good light and he has been a major reason for his team’s success.

The 26-year-old dictates the game from deep and has a passing range that can’t be matched by any other English player.

Against Arsenal, he was putting his team-mates in on goal at will and there is a place for his skills in the national set-up.

England have a number of quick attacking players and against better teams, Shelvey would provide a good option.

Southgate will need to set his side up to counter-attack and there is no better player to pick out the runs of Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy than the Newcastle midfielder.

There are risks to selecting the 26-year-old, but he deserves to be considered for the summer’s tournament.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Dele Alli – Tottenham

The Tottenham midfielder is going to go to the World Cup. Nobody can debate that, but he has found himself out of the starting eleven during recent friendly matches.

The injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain may benefit him, as there will now be a midfield position up for grabs.

Alli isn’t as comfortable in a central role as Oxlade-Chamberlain, but his goal threat and intelligent movement means that he could step into the starting eleven and play well.

The 22-year-old has had his critics this season, but a return of eight goals and ten assists in the Premier League underline the quality that he provides to a team.

Southgate will need to make sure Alli knows his defensive responsibilities and that the player carries them out to the letter, as England can’t afford to carry a midfield player.

At the age of 22, this summer could be an opportunity to break out for the Tottenham man.

It would be a risk to start him in a deeper role, but the rewards may be worth it.

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Crystal Palace should swoop for Manchester City’s Yaya Toure on a free

The Ivorian midfielder looks set to leave the Etihad this summer.

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Yaya Toure
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When Manchester City legend Yaya Toure was thrown on to the pitch with 25 minutes to go against Swansea City on Sunday, the City faithful were given a chance to celebrate the wonderful Citizens career of the Ivorian.

It was a perfect cameo for Toure, delivering a pinpoint chipped assist to Gabriel Jesus for City’s fifth goal.

Toure celebrated at the Etihad on the way to his third Premier League title, but he faces an uncertain future as Manchester City are unlikely to offer him a new contract.

The Metro reported that the 34-year-old wishes to remain in the Premier League, and Crystal Palace should seriously consider making a move for Toure.

Palace know all too well the supreme qualities of the midfielder. When Toure made his return from the exile Pep Guardiola imposed on him in November 2016, his first appearance came at Selhurst Park.

(Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ivory Coast international absolutely bossed the show that match, scoring two emphatic goals en route to a 2-1 victory, after three months out of the first team squad. It was a timely reminder of Toure’s unique skills, which would be perfectly suited to Crystal Palace’s style of play.

Roy Hodgson’s side play matches with a high-intensity, all-action swagger, and the coolness and relentless drive of Yaya Toure would slot in seamlessly. Toure would also add an experienced head to the Eagles, with lengthy spells playing for the best teams in the world.

Even though Toure is 34 years old, he still possesses a superb reading of the game and tremendous work rate. He is truly a box-to-box midfielder, running back to snuff out danger one moment, and striding forward and leading the attack the next.

A move to Selhurst Park would suit both sides, as the Ivorian wishes to keep his young family settled in England. Crystal Palace would do brilliantly to acquire the services of the three-time Premier League champion, a transfer that would lead them to the top-half of the top-flight table.

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Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha should resist move away from Selhurst Park

The Ivorian winger has been key for the Eagles this season.

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Wilfried Zaha
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Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha delivered yet another superb performance this weekend, scoring a crucial brace in Palace’s 3-2 win against Brighton.

In typical fashion, following his impressive showing, many have speculated that Zaha is far too good for this Palace team and should depart Selhurst Park in the summer.

However, Zaha should resist such urges and remain at Palace, where he will shine in the spotlight as their main man and bring top-half success to the Eagles.

The most recent rumours in the Times have linked the Ivorian with a switch to Tottenham Hotspur, but his 2013 transfer to Manchester United should prove a convincing deterrent against the move to north London.

Five years ago, Zaha swapped Palace for the allure of United, eager to become a star for the Red Devils. He signed a five-and-a-half-year deal at Old Trafford, but his time in Manchester was an abject failure.

The winger only made two league appearances for United, registering zero goals, before falling out of favour with David Moyes and being loaned out to Cardiff City. Just a season later, he was back at Crystal Palace.

(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

This big money debacle reveals that Zaha struggles when inserted into a situation where he is not a guaranteed starter. His game thrives off of confidence, trickery, and flair; it is no coincidence his best years have come at Palace, a club that genuinely loves and appreciates him.

And, it seems the feeling is mutual.

Zaha prominently spoke this week about his intense desire to beat Brighton and silence their supporters, illustrating the winger’s cult status and loyalty to the Eagles.

For the 25-year-old, the perfect decision would be to remain at Selhurst Park this summer. Roy Hodgson will be given funds to shape the team in his image, and could easily reproduce his success at Fulham, where he inspired the Whites to a seventh-placed finish and a Europa League final.

With Zaha leading the way as the star man, the ceiling could be the limit next season for the Eagles.

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