In the modern footballing world where fashionable terms like regista and trequartisa are exchanged casually the old-fashioned target man seems remarkably outdated.
Critics are often keen to slate transfers that smack of a lack of inspiration, especially compared with top-tier teams like Bayern Munich who are buying world-class talent like the Chilean midfielder, Arturo Vidal for £28m, £4m less than Christian Benteke.
Yet, Benteke represents an intent not only to fill areas in which Liverpool lack attacking prowess, but also a refusal to simply buy more popular or recently admired options from European teams. Indeed the failure or decision to capture players like Andriy Yarmolenko or Mohamed Salah have been proven to be blessings in disguise. FSG are keen to purchase young players, on relatively low wages in order to strengthen specific areas, not simply to impress the pundits, or quite the fans.
Last season our corners and crossing were entirely toothless. The lack of a focal point for wingbacks and wingers to target ensured crosses were floated in with a real lack of purpose. Although Balotelli and Lambert were certainly not utilised properly, their positional awareness was often negligible.
Even in highlighting this inability to exploit crossing opportunity, many critics have suggested Brendan’s philosophy of short, sharp passing and ensuring the ball is nearly always on the deck would be unsuited to Benteke’s style. Liverpool’s total crosses in the premier league last season (409) was the smallest number by far and with Benteke winning the most aerial challenges of any player (188) and scoring the most headed goals (14), from the outset the two appear incompatible.
However, the critics who are quick to highlight this unsuitability fail to note that although 8 of Benteke’s total of 28 goals for Aston Villa have been created from wide areas (29% in all) the general trend suggests this figure is far less proportionally than we would imagine. As statisticians like Andrew Beasley highlight, since Benteke’s arrival in the premier league 627 goals have been created via crosses from a total of 2,042 goals, 31% in total, a little higher than Benteke’s own type of conversion.
Benteke’s goal ratio therefore suggests a far more widely ranged skill set than many would have us imagine. Subsequently, he is far from the static target-man that would be easy to label and even easier to cut out. Benteke is capable of scoring from counter attacks, and beating a man before scoring from open play (arguably the most memorable being winning a penalty, which he then converted to beat arch rivals West Brom 4-3).
Although Benteke might not necessarily be employed to constantly pressure defenders and run off the last man like we have become accustomed to in recent Liverpool strikers Benteke will offer a different talent.
Notably, one of the most positive reactions to the transfer news came from Robbie Fowler, one of the great Liverpool goalscorers, and a poacher perhaps more capable of assessing a striker’s talents than most critics.
Fowler stated reassuringly that:
“He’s strong, he can hold a ball up, he’s quick, he’s mobile, has two good feet… we are expecting a few goals and we are expecting for him to bring other players into the game”.
Benteke’s ability to service our other attacking midfielders may just be his most useful talent, an area that Balotelli and even Sturridge have arguably failed to add to their games. As Fowler has identified, Benteke will not drop into the space occupied by the likes of Coutinho or Firmino, instead he will force the defense to drop deeper, stretching their ranks and allowing our best talent to thrive.
Conseuqently, if Benteke resembles the target-man he only represents its broader qualities, his aerial dominance twinned with his ability to integrate our midfield and forwards has the potential to cause serious damage this season, and those talents seem anything but redundant.
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