Getting the Best Out of Christian Benteke.
Aston Villa’s leading striker, Christian Benteke, will begin preseason training this week with many fans increasingly hopeful that the 22-year-old Belgian will remain working under Paul Lambert next season.
Amongst Benteke’s potential suitors, Arsenal look ever closer to signing Higuain, Manchester City are making eyes at Osvaldo and Negredo, and Chelsea have lifted their skirt and flashed their knickers at almost every top striker in Europe, including Luis Suarez, Cavani, Stefan Jovetic and Mario Gomez.
Aston Villa, themselves, have been linked to a succession of young Belgian transfer targets, including the thrilling David Henen, skillful winger Nacer Chadli and talented playmaker Denis Praet. Predictably, the subtext of all these flimsy transfer stories has been, “Is this a signing to keep Benteke happy?”
Looking back, Paul Lambert bought Benteke on deadline day in the summer of 2012, following the 21-year-old’s impressive haul of 19 goals in 37 appearances for Racing Genk. At that time, several question marks hung over the young strikers head. Could he hit the ground running without Premier League experience? Could he lead Villa’s attack? And would he be able to play alongside Darren Bent? Added to these questions, the expectations of Villa fans were also dampened by a damning critique given by Belgian football site, ‘The Belgian Waffle’ whose editor went as far as stating that, “I don’t think he deserves a Premier League move yet.”
To add insult to injury, Mr. Waffle reeled off a long list of further complaints about Benteke such as: “his worst aspect is his finishing, in the sense he’s never really been clinical” and that Benteke had a, “petulant and abrasive attitude.” Thankfully for Villa, Paul Lambert’s gamble paid off handsomely as Benteke, alongside Michu, were considered by many to be the signings of the season.
On a personal level, Benteke’s imperious response to his critics could be likened to Lord Byron’s retribution poem, “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers” as the young Belgian battled and bullied his way to becoming one of the Premier League’s hottest young strikers. ‘The Belgian Waffle’ soon changed his tune, lauding Benteke for “taking the Premier League by storm” following Benteke’s ‘master-class’ at Anfield, in which the young striker executed a sublime back-heel assist for Weimann and steamrollered his way through the Liverpool defence to score a goal himself. Paul Lambert will not be complacent, however, regarding any of his young players performances from last season and the Villa boss will be searching for further progression and improvement next year.
One player, in particular, who has developed an effective partnership with Benteke in his career so far is his former Racing Genk teammate Kevin De Bruyne, who’s now at Chelsea
The physically imposing Villa striker and the baby-faced Chelsea winger may not seem like the most obvious partnership, but the pair of 22-year-olds have built a successful relationship together, which they started when they were team mates at Genk. Belgium recently played against the USA and, again, it was De Bruyne who provided an assist for one of Benteke’s goals.
De Bruyne is an attacking midfielder who generally plays out wide on the left, similarly to Alexander Tonev. The Chelsea youngster is also known for his ability to score long range goals from central midfield.
De Bruyne has a sublime first touch and is very instinctive in his play. In addition, he has a superb passing range and has the ability to race away from players with his deceptive pace. De Bruyne does not have particular tricks as such, he is fairly orthodox, but he does consistently provide goals and assists for his team through his intelligence and pace. In the year before De Bruyne played together with Benteke at Genk, De Bruyne provided a remarkable 16 assists in 22 games.
Looking closely at the youngsters Paul Lambert has already brought to the club this summer, might the Villa boss have already signed a player perfectly suited to play De Bruyne’s wing man role in the shape of Alexander Tonev?
Like De Bruyne, Tonev is a fairly orthodox winger who has the pace to counter attack and an ability to come inside and shoot on goal from range. In addition, Tonev and De Bruyne are also hard-working, busy, and create space for others by making runs off the ball.
Borussia Dortmund may have had a similar idea of reuniting the Benteke / De Bruyne partnership as they scouted Benteke at the end of the season and were also looking to bring De Bruyne to the club on a permanent deal before Jose Mourinho personally called De Bruyne and put a kibosh on any deal. With De Bruyne committing his future to Chelsea, Dortmund’s interest in Benteke also appeared to lapse out of sight and now appears to be nonexistent due to their wage policy, with Benteke’s agent chancing his arm for a six-figure weekly sum for his client.
Belgian football expert, John Chapman, considered after Belgium’s recent victory against the USA that his ideal midfield three behind Benteke would be De Bruyn, Witsel and Chadli. Having signed a player similar to De Bruyne in Tonev, Villa have also now been linked with a move for Nacer Chadli.
Could Lambert be preparing to play a 4-2-3-1 formation next season with Benteke leading the attack in front of two wingers and an attacking midfielder behind him? With only a few days to go before Villa start playing preseason games, it will be interesting to see how the starting line-up evolves as the beginning of the Premier League season draws near.
Alexander Tonev will also certainly be hoping that he can develop a partnership with Benteke as productive as the partnership Benteke has developed with Kevin De Bruyne.
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