When the first reports in the summer came out saying that Liverpool wanted to spend £32.5m on Christian Benteke; I, like many, merely scoffed. There was no way that a club led by Brendan Rodgers would spend that much money on a 6’3” target man who had been the face of Martin Skrtel’s nightmares for a good few years. He simply didn’t fit the Brendan Rodgers philosophy; he thrived off crosses at Villa – whilst Liverpool often focussed on being a little too pretty. Everything screamed ‘don’t do it!’, but we’re Liverpool, we’re not a club that runs on logic, we run on madness. We’d already spent £51m on two target men who miserably failed to cut the mustard, and we were about to make that £83m.
The few days preceding July 22nd were for me, quite miserable. News broke that we were actually signing Benteke, it was a transfer I was firmly against. It was almost doomed to fail from the start, and the change in management has ultimately fuelled this fire. The key thing now, though was that he’s a Liverpool player, and I, like the rest of us, backed him to succeed. No Liverpool player should step out onto the pitch without the backing of every single fan, it’s something that we as fans pride ourselves on. Looking back, I’m still unsure as to why Rodgers signed Benteke, there were some really bizarre decisions made last summer; Lazar Markovic was allowed to leave on loan, leaving Jordon Ibe as the sole wide man at Liverpool, and we were meant to be feeding crosses to Benteke. Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino can loosely be described as ‘playmakers’, all slightly different, but in simple terms they want to be playing intricate passes and through balls, but they couldn’t as Christian Benteke has remained largely static. Obviously the injury to Daniel Sturridge meant Benteke didn’t have someone playing off him which I’m sure would start to bring the best out of him, but that really can’t be an excuse. We’ve since come to learn that FSG only sanctioned the signing of Benteke so Rodgers would allow Roberto Firmino to join, the irony is, the latter has thrived whilst the primary target hasn’t. Benteke was a man that was solely a Brendan Rodgers target, and when he left in early October, the future was becoming ever clearer.
What makes the whole Benteke situation really puzzling is the optimism everyone was feeling about Klopp’s effect on him. This is a man that had taken a 4m euro Robert Lewandowski into one of the world’s best strikers. I’m not saying for one minute we should have ever expected Benteke to become good, but we all expected a marked improvement. I genuinely thought Benteke would get at least 15 Premier League goals when Klopp came in. In fact, he’s scored just seven Premier League goals in 25 appearances, scoring on average a goal every 182 minutes – compared to Daniel Sturridge’s one in every 105 minutes and Roberto Firmino’s one in every 124 (as a striker) , on paper he was a much better fit in a Klopp team than he was in a Rodgers one, he’s actually been lagging behind the rest of Liverpool’s strikers in terms of output.
You look at some of the games Benteke’s played this season; there have been huge misses against Exeter, Leicester, Arsenal and West Ham to name but a few. And whilst it’s not his fault that we decided to spend £32m on him, he’s recently come out and said that he was ‘worth all the money’. When you also consider that he can earn up to £120k p/w, his performances have only served to render that statement a little nonsensical. There have been glimpses of what Benteke can do, he scored a world class bicycle kick against Manchester United, got the winning goals against Leicester and Crystal Palace, and has looked generally sharp in his last few matches, albeit appearing mainly as a substitute. Before his last minute winner against Crustal Palace, he hadn’t scored since Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Sunderland back at the end of December – that was thirteen games without a goal, quite concerning for someone’s who’s meant to be your spearhead. Benteke has actually single handedly earned Liverpool thirteen points this season, yet we’re still saying he hasn’t performed well enough; it just goes to show just how negative some of his performances have been. It really does say a lot that he has been benched for some massive games recently, such as the cup final against City and both Europa League matches against United. To say he’s currently out of favour would be a real understatement.
It is very easy to blame the lack of service from wide areas as a key reason for the failure of Christian Benteke. Sometimes you can watch us play and there won’t be a single successful cross during the whole 90 minutes, but in a Jurgen Klopp team especially, the striker has to also create his own chances. Much has been made of Klopp’s pressing game, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears in Benteke’s case. He often looks lethargic and disinterested whilst out of possession, for example: in 25 Premier League appearances this season, Benteke has attempted just 8 tackles, whilst Roberto Firmino has attempted 25 tackles in just 9 games as a striker. If I was Jurgen Klopp, focussing on recovering the ball high up the pitch, I know who I’d choose. Even when we do get into good areas, he finds maybe the worst positions as a striker, often lingering on the edge of the area instead of attacking the box. When he does try to get in behind, offsides are a real concern, he’s been caught offside 16 times in the Premier League this season, which is really just very frustrating. There’s a reason that he’s behind an attacking midfielder and a 20 year old in the pecking order, he simply hasn’t done enough to warrant a starting position.
We’ve often looked our best this season when there has been creativity and mobility upfront, something that Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi all provide in abundance. This allows the likes of Lallana and Coutinho to show off their true talent – that ability to unlock a defence and create game changing moments, this is something you just do not see when Benteke’s leading the line, balls continuously bounce off him, which is annoying as you’d think his speciality would be holding the ball up and bringing others into play, but no, we don’t see that. Going back to my earlier point, the fact that he doesn’t seem to want to attack a cross just baffles me – at 6’3”, he should be wanting balls into the box to attack, but he doesn’t seem to care, often pulling out and blaming the crosser. Every game that he plays, you think it’ll be the one that helps him around the never ending corner, but this just doesn’t happen – the same old frustrations become evident until they’re almost common place, and the dissatisfaction towards the £32m number 9 continues to grow, which can only hinder him more. He seems to be trapped in a vicious cycle that he’s unable to break free from.
Benteke’s frustration finally boiled over when he publicly questioned Jurgen Klopp over his apparent ‘ignoring’ of him. When you’re not in the team, you should be concentrating as hard as you can on fighting for your place, through making the most of the substitute appearances and impressing in training; not publicly lambasting the man that has defended you in public on numerous occasions. You have to wonder whether something has happened behind the scenes to trigger a more combative Benteke, well, off the pitch anyway. He looks as if he’s someone who knows that he hasn’t taken his chance to impress at a big club, where the scrutiny is deafening, the margin for error smaller than anywhere else. It could just be that he prefers being a big fish in a small pond, where he can shine and hog the limelight – whereas at Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, the team comes first, that’s paramount; and if you don’t put the team first, you’ll be out the door. I haven’t completely written off Benteke, there’s still time for him to have an impact, but it’s got to happen soon, and the seemingly patient Klopp now may not be so patient come the summer when the Anfield overhaul really begins.