Christian Benteke can take Liverpool back to its glory days
Liverpool Football club has been blessed with a rich history of lethal forwards during the Premier League era. Never have they claimed the coveted title since its rebranding in the early 90’s but always seemed to have a good striker. Ian Rush, John Barnes, Robbie Fowler, Micheal Owen, Emile Heskey (might as well try) and Fernando Torres passed each other the baton of being the idolised striker for the Kop faithful.
Most recently Luis Suarez excited Anfield the most with his all round game and ability to trouble any defender in the world. He almost gifted Liverpool the title with his record equalling 31 goals in the 2013/14 with The Reds falling agonisingly close to winning the title. He was destined for greater things when Barcelona came knocking on the door with a £75-million cheque but who better to step into the Kop goal getter than Daniel Sturridge.
Sturridge was no replacement for Suarez. He had complemented the side with an amazing 21 goals in 29 appearances in the same 2013/14 season and in his own right was a fan favourite. Injuries limited his appearances but whenever he played, he scored. So when King Luis left the throne at Anfield, Sturridge was the natural successor, or so we thought. An injury-blighted season in which he only managed 12 appearances and four goals followed. Brendan Rodgers was rumoured to be frustrated with Sturridge and his history of injuries, sending him to Boston, USA, for specialist help. All Liverpool got back from Prince Sturridge was a lively Instagram feed.
The frustration grew as misfit Mario Balotelli did not live up to his potential with recent reports emerging that his immature antics led to banishment from Melwood. For the first time in recent memory, Liverpool did not possess the firepower that they were accustomed too. Reduced to playing Raheem Sterling or Phillipe Coutinho at striker, it’s no wonder the goals dried up post-Suarez. Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini flirted with the number 9 spot but never got a decent run of fixtures to prove themselves. Rodgers had to act.
He lured Danny Ings on a free from Burnley. The Englishman had a fairly impressive season for the relegated Clarets notching 11 goals and 4 assists. Liverpool parted with £29-million to get Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian attacking midfielder had an impressive spell at Hoffenheim in Germany bagging 32 goals in two seasons but he wasn’t the conventional striker needed. Then the rumours of Rodgers being interested in Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke emerged.
Big expectation from the Belgian
The big Belgian had adapted well to the English game as a powerful target man and scored bags of goals for Villa. A £32.5-million release clause stood in the way and after lengthy negotiations Villa stood firm on their asking price. Rumoured interest from Manchester Untied seemed to have hastened Rodgers into action. Liverpool opened the cheque book to acquire their man. He was met with enthusiasm from the Anfield faithful. After all, he had scored 42 goals in 88 Villa appearances.
His move didn’t come without doubts. Labelled as a target man it was hard to see him fitting in the Rodgers’ mould of technically gifted players. Tim Sherwood, his former manager was one of these doubters, questioning whether Christian would fit in the system. After signing for The Reds Benteke himself said he wanted to prove the doubters wrong and show that there is more to his game. His start to life at Liverpool has been encouraging.
A difficult season opener at Stoke in which he didn’t do too badly was followed up by a dominant home debut performance. Bournemouth were the opponents and the Championship winners struggled with his movement and ability in the air. Winning ten of the 16 aerial duels proved that he was a target man who could hold his own. Far more impressive was his ability to hold up play with excellent control, back heels and layoffs to his teammates. Often double-teamed, he showed his strength and tenacity in creating the most chances (four) in the encounter. He notched a controversial goal but he should have had another striking the bar late on. The Kop saluted the big Belgian as he joined cult heroes like Torres and Suarez in scoring on their home debut.
The goal machine
The early signs from Benteke’s arrival are that he has the ability to torment any defender in the air and this gives Liverpool another option from their free-flowing style, especially when teams set out to frustrate their passing manner. This and is hold up play draws defenders towards him, opening up spaces for the Coutinhos and Firminos to operate in. His ability to finish is why The Reds paid top pound for him and the man can finish. Only Suarez, Sergio Aguero and Robin Van Persie have scored more goals since Benteke debuted in England.
With Daniel Sturridge’s return from injury on the horizon, it will be interesting see how Liverpool will line up upon his return. Usually employed centrally in a front three he might have to settle for a place out wide. Sturridge is a wonderful talent but his injury record speaks volumes on how dependable he is. Rodgers ran out patience with Sturridge at the back end of last season with chronic injuries limiting his appearances and disrupting his plans. The little we have seen from Benteke in the red jersey shows he is a better option as the main striker as he possess a more all round game. Liverpool should build their attack around him.
If Benteke’s start to life at Anfield is anything to go by he has the chance to command his place in the side and continue to write Liverpool’s rich history of lethal strikers. With age and ability on his side he has all the tools to join the greats at the club. In a league where target men like Alan Shearer dominated I see the Belgian growing into one of the best strikers in the Premier League era.