Clearing some misconceptions about Christian Benteke

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I’ve been a Villa fan for a long time. Benteke is one of the most exciting players I’ve ever seen here. Having watched every single minute of his Villa career so far, either in person or on screen, I feel that general perception of Benteke as a player is misguided. I’ll keep it short. It’s a little difficult to find video samples that exemplify my case, but I gave it my best shot with the limited amount of Villa footage that exists online.

Let’s settle a few things first:

  • Benteke has made 101 appearances in 3 seasons, scoring 49 goals. That’s a ratio of 0.485, or just about 1 goal every 2 games. That’s fantastic for a team as devoid of creativity and guile as Lambert’s Villa were. We have no flair players or playmakers.
  • Benteke is not injury prone. He sustained a hip flexor injury during the first half of the 13/14 season and an achilles injury from a bad tackle in training just before the World Cup. He struggled to build momentum during that season. Other than that, he has remained injury-free.
  • Guzan, Vlaar and Delph certainly played their parts, but Benteke was the driving force behind Villa for 3 straight years. In a team of dross and low quality imports, Benteke elevated us to the status of competitors at least.
  • His agent, Eris Kismet, is pulling the strings. He and Benteke forced the move from Genk to Villa in 2012 and tried to force a transfer to Spurs in summer 2013. Ultimately he agreed to stay, got a big pay rise and all was forgiven but Kismet, as agents do, is always looking for the next big move.
  • Under Lambert, Villa flirted with progressively less exciting playstyles as time went on. At first we were a counter-attacking team. Then we persevered with a rugged long-ball game which limited Benteke. Finally, we settled on a possession-based style with no end product which rendered Benteke useless. Lambert was sacked, Sherwood arrived and Benteke thrived once again.

Now I’ll try to dispel a few misconceptions:

“Benteke does not press”: This conclusion is drawn from the fact that Villa, under Lambert, never pressed the opposition in their own half. It wasn’t our gameplan. In 12/13, for example, we were a primarily a counter-attacking team in a 4-3-3 formation. We sat back with 8 players and lured the opposition to our box, allowing them to commit players forward and thus leaving their defence isolated with the pacey trio of Benteke, Agbonlahor and Weimann to deal with once we broke. The front 3 were never really expected to press. It’s not that Benteke doesn’t press, it’s that he wasn’t supposed to. He’s not as ferociously fast or tenacious as Suarez, but he’s is not a lazy cunt either. He will press and harry as much as he can, if that’s what you ask of him.

“Benteke cannot pass the ball”: This assumption must come from his passing completion stats, which are inevitably woeful because he was used as a target man in the 13/14 season by Lambert. I believe, at one point, Guzan to Benteke was the most attempted pass in the league. He invariably wins the aerial duel, but successfully knocking the ball down to a team-mate is far more difficult and could easily skew his stats. In reality, Benteke is a perfectly adequate passer and often makes the kind of incisive forward passes that he himself would benefit from[1] . With better players around him, he would excel.

“Benteke is just a target man”: This is an idea again borne out of Lambert’s limited tactics. Lambert never used a playmaker or #10. He preferred to bypass the midfield entirely when attacking. Our makeshift wingers – Agbonlahor and Weimann – were industrious and pacey, but not creative. He’s a big lanky bastard (I use that term endearingly) and his aerial prowess encourages neutrals to relegate him to the Crouch/Carroll archetype. He is capable of playing that role but, for a big guy, he also shows remarkable close control, ball retention, dribbling skills and in general is pretty good with the ball at his feet.[2]

I have compiled just some of his goals below. Villa clips are hard to come by, so the video quality is shit in some of them. Many of them are rather simple finishes too, but that’s what makes him so brilliant. He’s clinical.

Headers:

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Running at the defence:

Keeping it simple:

A bit further out:

Moments of magic:

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I don’t know Liverpool intends on playing this season but Benteke is one of the best forwards available right now. £32.5m sounds extortionate but any Villa fan would tell you he’s worth it. I wouldn’t bother considering any potential “chemistry” with Origi because this isn’t FIFA, after all, but Benteke will thrive with good players around him and he’s good enough to lead the charge at the top end of the table. My fellow Villa fans will know what I mean when I say it always feels like something is about to happen when Benteke gets on the ball, because it usually does.

This post first appeared on Reddit