It seems that many fans have taken one of Tim Sherwood’s pearls of wisdom seriously. The former Spurs manager claimed that his side crosses the ball in the box more than any other side in the league and that if Christian Benteke moved to Liverpool, he would struggle.
While it is true that Liverpool attempted the second fewest crosses in the league after Swansea with 17 per game, Aston Villa themselves were 14th in that list. One of the reasons why the Reds played more through the middle was the long-term injury to Daniel Sturridge which meant that Raheem Sterling was deployed upfront for a significant part of the campaign and his slight frame meant that Liverpool refrained from attempting crosses floated up in the box – Sterling won just 1 aerial duel in every 10 games he played last season.
Another reason was the lack of mobility of the other two front men, Ricky Lambert and Mario Balotelli. The duo didn’t fit in a team that demanded its strikers to offer themselves in the build up before making their way into the box to get on the end of deliveries. They failed to score even a single headed goal in the league between them.
Ironically, Christian Benteke is called limited and capable only of thriving in a team which plays long ball, and is thought to be in the same mould as the departing duo. The statistics from last season disapprove that theory. The 6 ft 3 in striker was struggling with just 2 goals in 13 games which saw Paul Lambert getting sacked. So poor was their archaical lumping-the-ball- forward brand of football that by the start of February, Villa had scored the fewest goals out of all 92 Football League clubs. The late switch from a direct style to possession based style didn’t reap any dividends because they ultimately didn’t have players good enough to keep the ball and work out openings.
Sherwood’s arrival heralded a remarkable difference in Villa’s as well as Benteke’s fortune. It is true that he recorded 27 headed attempts – the third most in the league behind Pelle and Crouch, but he ended up scoring 12 goals in the final 13 games of the season with the memorable hat trick in the 3-3 draw against QPR standing out.
In the process, he became one of only six players to score at least 10 goals in each of the last three Premier League seasons and if he’s in the same touch as he was at the tail end of the season, Liverpool fans are in for a pleasant surprise.
At the start of May, the Belgian had a 40 percent conversion rate, having netted his 10 goals from just 25 attempts on goal – second only to Bas Dost (45 percent) among Europe’s top scorers since mid-February. And even more astonishingly, he had a shots on target conversion rate of 76.9 %, his ten goals resulting from a mere 13 attempts on goal.
Having arrived in the Premier League at the young age of 21 on the back of a brilliant season with Genk when he scored 18 goals and recorded a further 11 assists, the Belgian hit the ground running scoring as a substitute on his debut appearance against Swansea. He went on to score 23 goals in his first season, becoming Villa’s record goalscorer in a Premier League season and accumulated a tally of 49 goals from 99 appearances, which accounts to a goal every other game.
If he were to leave Birmingham for Merseyside, he would finish as the fifth highest goalscorer for Villa with the best average (0.47) at the club in their Premier League history.
Benteke made his Belgium debut at the age of 19 having scored 24 goals in 37 at the youth level. He has scored seven goals in 21 appearances for the national team.
His goalscoring records scream that the striker has scored consistently since a tender age at all levels, and the monster that has gradually developed is destined for greater things.
Benteke is a monster in the air, is remarkably efficient with his finishing and doesn’t refrain from taking shots from a distance. He has a good touch for someone so big, and isn’t afraid to take defenders inside the box with the ball at his feet. He can turn quickly, and has a ferocious shot in his locker,
whilst also being capable of the truly spectacular…
..from time to time.
Superb close control means that he would fit right in with Liverpool’s many technicians along his ability to dribble with the ball.
He closes down the opposition full-backs and centre-backs in their own area though one wouldn’t expect him to use all his energies to come as far back as the midfield to double team. Regardless it will be a significant improvement over last season for Liverpool.
Also, his presence and work-rate can unsettle the best of defenders who are in for a tough afternoon when Benteke’s is in the mood, something which is the case more often than not.
Calm and composed in front of goals, Benteke knows how to find bottom corners by placing the ball..
..as well as taking up positions near the penalty spot before sweeping home pull backs.
He is also capable of powering past defences with brute force combined with skill, like this..
..and is of course, a brilliant header of the football.
How would he fit in at Liverpool
Name one position which Liverpool fans would have wanted urgent strengthening after calamitous 6-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium on the final day of last season and it wouldn’t have been in the defence.
Steven Gerrard played upfront on his last appearance for the club that day, and the need of the hour was a proven goalscorer considering that Liverpool had attempted the third highest shots in the Premier League for the second season in a row, but their finishing was so poor this time that they scored just 1.3 goals per game.
They suffered heavily throughout the season in the absence of Sturridge and even when the striker was fit, he looked far from the lethal player that he was in 2013-2014 and ultimately his short comeback was halted by another injury crisis.
Roberto Firmino became the first big-money signing of the summer, though now it seems like he will replace the Manchester City bound Raheem Sterling. Anyhow Firmino generally operates just behind the striker though he can play across the front three. The Brazilian duo of Firmino and Coutinho can link up play receiving lay-offs and flick-ons from Benteke who will provide a strong presence up front. The pair can burst forward with his one touch passes while the 24-year-old will also be provided service from wide by both the attacking full-backs, Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno. Even Jordan Henderson has developed an exquisite cross which is whipped into the box with pace and it could prove lethal with someone like Benteke on the end of it.
Also, Aston Villa were amongst only four teams to average zero through balls per game while Liverpool were third after Arsenal and City. The addition of Firmino and Milner to the squad means that Benteke will have much more quality in the ranks behind him. Moreover, he wouldn’t have to drop deep to build up things because Liverpool usually have numbers in that area who lacked a focal point to play off last season.
At 190 cms, he would be the second tallest player in the squad after Martin Skrtel and also add a much needed aerial presence in the box, especially during set pieces both attacking and defending.
The Reds had the joint second lowest goals in the league from dead ball situations with just six over the course of the season. The three London clubs Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea who finished above Liverpool had 16 and 15 apiece respectively. Goals from set pieces can be vital as Liverpool themselves utilised them when they challenged for the title season before last.
Benteke also works the channel, nothing on Suarez of course, but well enough and it was one of the things that outdid Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final, forcing Brendan Rodgers to switch from the back three that he had started the game with to a back four. Liverpool simply couldn’t cope with the movement of Benteke and the pace of its wide players making runs behind the defence at will. He equalised with a side foot neatly after his side had gone behind before getting involved in build up to the second goal. His run down the left channel stretched Liverpool’s defence and his cute back heel allowed young Grealish to slip in Fabian Delph for the winner.
When people say that Benteke will be end up being a misfit like Balotelli or Andy Carroll, they underestimate striker’s intelligent movement which has improved leaps and bounds since his days in the Jupiler Pro League.
The quartet of Sturridge, Lambert, Borini and Balotelli managed to score just eight league goals between them. Benteke is more than good enough to bag around double that figure on his own.
As for him being injury prone akin to Liverpool’s number 15, Benteke suffered a hip injury once in early 13/14 while the unfortunate Achilles injury resulted from a bad tackle in training keeping him out for six months. He largely stays fit.
Benteke has all the makings of the proverbial 20 goals a season striker and if Rodgers is able to fit him into his side and he’s able to adapt quickly, there is no reason why this move shouldn’t work out favourably for both the parties.