Liverpool striker Christian Benteke has struggled to live up to his mammoth £32.5m price tag since his summer move to Anfield. The Belgium international has just 8 goals in his 35 appearances for The Reds and has not looked a comfortable fit with Liverpool’s more technically creative players. His almost statuesque approach and lack of intelligent movement or pressing has particularly made him stand out for all the wrong reasons since Jürgen Klopp took charge. His poor form and confidence has seen him squander a number of clear cut chances and resulted in him spending much of his time on the bench as Klopp has favoured players with superior energy, movement and work rate.
On international duty with Belgium, Benteke spoke to a Belgian magazine Sport/Voetbalmagazine and in reference to reports that Dortmund showed an interest in signing the striker during Klopp’s time in charge there, he told them: “Some teammates have said that I was lucky with the arrival of Klopp, because I certainly would play”
He was also asked to comment on criticism of his style of play and it not suiting Liverpool, he replied: “I find bizarre. I do not understand why people say that. I can play pressing and moving a lot. It is not that we play in the Barcelona style.”
The penalty he won and dispatched with aplomb against Crystal Palace was not only a rare bright spot, but also the only Premier League goal he’s scored in 2016. His disappointing form has seen him start just two of Liverpool’s last ten games in all competitions. His frustration at falling behind Daniel Sturridge, international team mate Divock Origi and even attacking midfielder Roberto Firmino in the pecking order of strikers was clear, adding: “When a coach tells you he wants to get to Dortmund and you sit a little later in the same club and he ignores you, it’s hard to understand … “
Those words come just days after Klopp was seen having words with Benteke on the pitch after Liverpool’s second half capitulation to Southampton, in which the striker missed a good opportunity seal the game for Liverpool, but did little else after coming on as a substitute for Sturridge. Klopp played down the discussion, saying he “I had a few words, that’s ok, nothing else”.
Benteke’s interview is as unlikely to help his cause for a recall to the Liverpool starting line-up as his performances on the pitch. He claims he can press and move a lot, but there has been very little evidence of that on the pitch. Too often he will get involved in the build-up play outside the box, but when the ball then moves in the box and is crossed or cut back into a dangerous area, Benteke is stood on the edge of the box rather than attacking the space and busting a gut to score. The forlorn, languid figure he cuts on the pitch certainly does nothing to support his assertion he presses and if he really does find it bizarre that he is criticised for it, then I can only suggest he reviews match footage.
Statistically, of the 18 games Benteke has started, he has only scored 4 goals, with the other 4 coming from his 17 substitute appearances. Those are not good figures for a striker, especially one signed for such a hefty fee and perhaps even more telling of his effect on the team is that in all the games Benteke has started this season, Liverpool have averaged scoring just 1.00 goals per game. Compare that with the games he hasn’t started and the goals per game average for Liverpool this season goes to 1.71; a truly stark contrast.
Rumours have already began to surface that West Ham are interested in signing him this summer, though Liverpool will likely have to accept a sizeable loss on their £32.5m investment from last summer. In his interview in Belgium, Benteke was asked about a possible move away this summer and replied: “In January I did not want to leave, it is my desire to succeed at Liverpool. I want to continue. At the end of the season we take stock” The mention of January was a curious one, but the hint towards the summer and some of his other comments suggest he will be on his way out of Anfield. If that turns out to be the case, there will be few that shed a tear, despite how perplexed and oblivious Benteke is to why he hasn’t succeeded there.