Benteke points the way ahead to a possible summer move to Liverpool
The mood around Anfield may be bleak at present with prize asset Luis Suarez openly expressing his desire to join Spanish giants Real Madrid this summer in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais (via Sky Sports).
However, all is not lost as bringing in-demand Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke to Merseyside next season will actually give the Reds’ attack an extra dimension that could ultimately propel the club into the UEFA Champions League next year.
Despite their very public protestations that their Uruguay international will still be at Liverpool for the start of the 2013-14 campaign, privately Reds head coach Brendan Rodgers and the club’s American owners, the Fenway Sports Group, have already accepted that Suarez can depart Anfield this summer if los Blancos meet their £40 million valuation of the forward.
And in turn, the Northern Irishman has been assured by Liverpool owner John W Henry that he can then invest the proceeds from the Uruguayan’s big-money transfer to the Spanish capital in strengthening the Reds’ attack next season.
All of which means identifying an attacker with the right characteristics to be able to replace Suarez up front at Anfield, and that player is Villa’s coveted Belgium international.
Anyone who watched Benteke in action in his debut campaign in the Premier League last season cannot fail to have been impressed with the centre-forward’s imposing strength and power as he would often leave opposition defenders in a crumpled heap on the ground.
And combined with his electric, raw pace, the 22-year-old is quite the athlete when in full flow, as his goal in the Premier League against Chelsea at Villa Park on May 11 demonstrated when Benteke beat Gary Cahill in the air before collecting a return pass and then leaving the England international centre-back in his wake as he fired past Petr Cech at his near post.
2012/13 goals in all competitions (matches played): 23 (39)
2012/13 goals in the Premier League (matches played): 19 (34)
International goals (matches played): 6 (14 since 2010)
Twenty-three goals in just 39 appearances would be eye-catching attacking numbers from an established top-flight marksman, but when they come from a 22-year-old in his debut season in English football then they are even more impressive indeed.
And at a rate of a goal every 1.7 games for Villa last season, Benteke’s was only just slightly inferior to Suarez’s record of a strike every 1.5 matches for Liverpool over the same period, and that was with a struggling side that would have created infinitely less chances than the Merseysiders did.
What is more, the Belgium has the ability to score all kinds of different goals, whether they be bread-and-butter tap ins, headers, volleys, half volleys, long-range or solo efforts, you name it, Benteke has scored it.
And before you query whether he has the ability to reproduce that type of goalscoring form against top-level opposition, then his record on the international stage for Belgium over the past three years says he can.
One thing is for sure, Liverpool’s manager will not be in need of any convincing about Benteke’s technical abilities following the Reds’ trip to Villa Park in March, when the forward opened the scoring with a strike of such quality that it was one of the Premier League goals of the season.
A huge attraction in bringing Benteke to Anfield during the close season is the player’s versatility, which will really appeal to a coach such as Rodgers who likes all his outfield players to be able to operate in multiple roles and formations, sometimes during an actual game itself.
So the fact the Villa striker has already shown himself during his brief stay in the Midlands capable of playing either the lone front role, as part of a two-pronged attack in a 4-4-2 lineup, or as one of three front men in a 4-3-3 setup bodes well for any potential move to Liverpool.
And nine assists in all competitions for both club and country in the previous campaign also clearly demonstrates that Benteke, in a similar way to Suarez, is not just a fox-in-the-box goal poacher but a player with many more strings to his bow, something Rodgers won’t need reminding about after the Belgium’s sensational back-heeled assist for Gabriel Agbonlahor’s goal at Anfield last December.
A detailed examination of exactly against who Benteke scored his 23 goals for Villa last season will also show that the attacker likes to make his presence count on the grandest stage and in the contests that really matter, which demonstrates even at the tender age of 22 this is a player with a big-game mentality.
Three goals against the Reds themselves across their two league encounters, as well as the vital winner against relegation rivals Queens Park Rangers at Villa Park in March, followed by an even more important hat-trick against fellow strugglers Sunderland (see above) in the crucial run in all ably testify to Benteke’s ability to produce the goods under pressure, which is an encouraging sign for Liverpool indeed.
Contract situation at Villa: June 30 2016
Estimated cost: £25m
If Liverpool do receive their asking price of £40m from Madrid or any other club for want-away front man Suarez, then splashing out £25m of the proceeds on a striker four years younger than the Uruguay international and with an equally impressive goalscoring record in England appears to be smart business, especially as it also leaves Rodgers with potentially another £15m with which to strengthen other key areas of the team.
Certainly this is the view of former Liverpool midfield player and now broadcaster Jan Molby, who told the Daily Star that the Reds: “Might well be able to get a Christian Benteke. He has surprised a lot of people with his goals but I would like to see if it is more than just his physical power that has given him an advantage over defenders this season.”
Either way, there is no doubt that signing Benteke would give Liverpool's attack an extra dimension next season …