By Daniel Giraldo
Chasing a vital away goal in a Europa League game with Augsburg, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp opted for substitutes Divock Origi and Jordon Ibe, this was in favour of £32.5 million forward Christian Benteke. The decision to name the Belgian as a substitute is no longer considered as a surprise, the big striker faces a growing number of critics that claim he is not suited to Klopp’s style of play. Leaving him to stay on the bench, with no weekend game upcoming, points ominously to the conclusion that the Liverpool manager does not see Benteke as part of his plans. So, why Benteke is struggling and is he destined to flatter to deceive at Anfield?
Contrast of styles
One of the most noticeable factors for Benteke’s difficulties is an absence of those who could truly supply him. Jorden Ibe is the only the real winger in the Liverpool squad that can be considered a regular, (James Milner is more of a midfielder). Adam Lallana and Phillipe Coutinho can both play wide, however they are more suited to drifting inside as number 10s.
They will not be hugging the touchline and supplying the kind of crosses that Benteke is renown to thrive upon. This point was noticeably mentioned by Tim Sherwood, the ex-Villa manager who sold Benteke last summer. The Liverpool boss at the time, Brendan Rodgers, may have seen the full backs as key to providing ammunition to the imposing centre forward. The stats (provided by WhoScored.com) tell a different story. Nathaniel Clyne is a good defender, but he has one assist for Liverpool this season, he managed none for Southampton last year. Alberto Moreno has three in the same period.
Benteke’s suitability to a Klopp tactic known as ‘gegenpressing’, a high pressure approach designed to steal the opponent’s possession in key areas, is also very questionable. He is yet to display evidence that he can adapt to this requirement. Most notably, Benteke has started none of Liverpool’s best away performances of the season so far, including big wins at Man City, Chelsea, Southampton and Aston Villa. On these occasions he was either overlooked for the more mobile Roberto Firmino or the returning Daniel Sturridge.
Of the games he has featured in from the start, there was no real demonstration of movement or the goal scoring instinct expected in a £30 million forward. His open goal miss against Leicester City on Boxing Day, despite netting earlier in the game, highlighted his crisis of confidence.
“Give him time”
There is the view that Benteke should be given time and patience to turn his Anfield career around. Brendan Rodgers has recently called for Benteke to be given the time that was afforded to Robert Lewandowski, a former Klopp player at Borussia Dortmund. The idea of persevering with Benteke is not a ridiculous statement, yet the comparison to Lewandowski falls into that category. Benteke was bought for over £30 million and was viewed as a proven goal scorer in the Premier League. Lewandowski was moving from the competitively inferior Polish League to the Bundesliga, for a fee of around € 5 million. Therefore, the expectations on the players are not comparable. Benteke was expected to deliver instantly due to his price tag, Lewandowski’s fee and obscure reputation meant he could be afforded the time to develop.
It is more appropriate to compare Ciro Immobile to Benteke. Seen as similar in style, the striker was signed by Klopp from Torino in 2014 after a successful 22 goal return. However, he only managed three league goals in the subsequent season. In a similar fashion to Benteke, Immobile has proved proficient in the right system, unfortunately that system does not appear to be Klopp’s.
In contrast, the quicker and more fluid forwards find more success. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored 16 goals in 33 appearances in the same team as Immobile. His likeness in style to Daniel Sturridge in terms of stretching defences is also evident.
What the future holds
Christian Benteke certainly faces an uphill struggle to resurrect his Liverpool career. It has been unfortunate that Daniel Sturridge’s injuries have plagued the Belgian with an enhanced burden of responsibility. However, these were ultimately opportunities that he failed to grasp as he has yet to adapt to what is required of him.
Due to the return (for now) of Sturridge and his Belgian compatriot Origi and Klopp’s tendency to use Firmino as a ‘false nine,’ Benteke has been relegated to fourth choice. His salvation could come from being the focal point of a team, but this will not happen at Liverpool.