Wasted at Liverpool, following his high profile £32.5 million move from Aston Villa two summers ago, Christian Benteke finally appears to have found a new home in Crystal Palace. With two goals in four Premier League appearances since his arrival at Selhurst Park, including a stoppage time winner on the weekend, he looks set to thrive in Alan Pardew’s tactical system.
His interaction with the club’s talented wingers is the major reason behind his new-found success. With the quality of Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Jason Puncheon supplying him with service from the flanks, he has been given the licence to do what he does best: win the physical battles and get himself inside the penalty area to score goals.
In Palace’s 3-2 victory over Sunderland on Saturday, the Belgian international won four out of five duels in the 18-yard-box, and a further five outside of the box. In total he found himself competing for 17 headers in the opposition half, of which he won 53%. His link-up play with Puncheon, saw the latter finish the weekend as the top flight’s most creative player, with eight key passes – five of which fell to Benteke.
In fact, throughout his last three appearances – all of which have been victories for Alan Pardew’s side – Benteke has been involved in an impressive 45 aerial duels, winning 25 of these battles – more than any other player in the English top flight. This is an average of 8.8 headers won per match. For context, he is winning more headers per match than an entire Barcelona side in La Liga (8.7).
His goal in the 90+5th minute will have come as little surprise, for two reasons: 1) David Moyes’ Sunderland, somewhat characteristically this season, lost all concentration in the closing stages, defending appallingly when push came to shove, and 2) Palace applied huge amounts of pressure in the final thirty minutes, particularly from out wide, with 9/22 crosses coming in the last thirty minutes of the match.
With a player of Benteke’s ability lurking in the penalty area, the club’s persistence down the flanks would eventually reap its rewards. Having won a free-kick in the closing stages, Lee Chung-yong played a ball into the Belgian’s path and it came as very little surprise to see his Belgian team-mate powering home with virtually the last action of the game.
As evidenced by the statistics, Christian Benteke has re-established himself as Europe’s most physically imposing centre forward with his move to Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace. Alan Pardew’s men are clearly beginning to get the very best out of the former Liverpool striker.