What’s up with Christian Benteke?
Once upon a time…well, last season, Christian Benteke was immortal. He carried the Villa team and supporters on his own back to Premiership safety, destroying a few defences along the way. From the start of 2013, his 14 goals in 17 starts put him up there with Messi and Ronaldo in terms of the top European goal scorers. He started the 2013/14 season where he left off, but then an injury picked up against Norwich seemed to make Benteke mortal again.
Benteke hasn’t scored since, with his drought now lasting 10 games with is last goal coming in the 2-1 home defeat by Newcastle on the 14th September. Benteke is the only world class player at Villa’s disposal, but surely such a player doesn’t lose his mojo just like that?
As reported elsewhere, Jamie Redknapp suggested last weekend that Villa’s talisman was playing like a pussycat instead of the lion of last year, while fans have cited a lack of effort from the Belgian in recent games. The more cynical fans amongst us, have even said the Villa striker’s heart isn’t in it anymore and that he’s waiting for a move in January. I don’t believe any of that.
Christian Benteke is still only 23-years-old and at that age temperament and confidence can always be issues. He has the added pressure of competing with an on-fire Romelu Lukaku for the lone strikers spot in the Belgian national team for the forthcoming World Cup. Benteke’s injury was also the first proper one of his career. When you look at his demeanor, Benteke is more the humble and quiet type off the pitch, rather than the cock-sure confident kid, so these things may get to him if he isn’t getting the rub of the green.
The key to his frustration though perhaps lies in the kind of service he’s been getting. Villa had possessed one of the most prolific Premier League strikers there’s been, in the shape of record signing Darren Bent and he ultimately ended up starved of chances and surplus to requirements. There was more to Benteke’s game then Bent’s, in terms of making him a better all-round focus for Lambert’s Villa’s attacking play, but once he was no longer a surprise package in the Premier League, teams obviously began to make provisions for playing against him.
As we can see from Benteke’s heat map in the home win against Cardiff,during most of the game, the Villa striker is trying to pick up Guzan long balls down the centre or lefthand side. The brief time he spent in the penalty box seems to be his position for corner kicks. The heat map matches ones from other recent games like the one below against Manchester United.
It’s getting pretty predictable to say the least. Just put a couple of men on Benteke behind the half-way line on Villa’s left-hand side when Guzan gets the ball, and you’ve neutralised him!
How does he compare to other strikers? Well, lets pick one of the supposed more lazy strikers in Dimitar Berbatov. A player that this month was accused by Rodney Marsh of “walking around like he is wearing an overcoat, smoking a cigar”.
He may not be the most mobile of players, but look how Bebatov benefits from playing in a team with the majority of possession and that plays a more astute passing game. Bebatov is much more involved in the play, linking things up and also has a bigger presence in the opponents penalty box.
We’re almost bored on MOMS about whining about the need for an attacking midfielder to feed Villa’s front three and to pull defences out of position. Idealistic? We don’t think so. He’d be the player that Westwood lays the ball off to, a player that Delph could link up with when driving forward, then the provider to set up Villa’s front line. Of course, quality players in this position don’t grow on trees, but they do exist. Certainly a more forward-thinking player is better than how the current three Villa midfielders play, which is ultimately a variation on a theme.
As I’ve hinted at in other articles, opportunity knocks for Lambert in the January window. If the right player is purchased, then Benteke may have the opportunity to begin 2014 as he did 2013, and become immortal once again.