What on Earth has happened to Christian Benteke?
Villa's talismanic Belgian striker was one of the Premier League's hottest properties last season. The then 21-year-old burst onto the scene, scoring in his debut against Swansea City. He then went from strength to strength as he proved to be one of the signings of the summer.
Benteke took to England's top flight like a duck to water, using his brutish style, his pace, aerial ability and desire to mix it with the league's proven strikers.
A spectacular start to 2013 saw Benteke notch 14 goals in 17 games, a statistic surpassed only by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in world football.
The former Genk man's tally finished at 19—one goal shy of Villa's 22-year record—as he single-handedly saved the Claret and Blues from relegation.
That terrific goalscoring record seems a distant memory now, however.
The Belgian is currently experiencing the worst run of form since his arrival in England, stretching the time since his last goal to 11 hours and 25 minutes.
He has now featured in 10 Villa fixtures without finding the back of the net since his last strike in a game against Newcastle in September, prompting many, such as the Birmingham Mail's Brian Halford, to wonder whether Benteke was a “one-season wonder.”
Villa's front man has now been ruled out until the New Year, which could effectively extend his barren spell to almost three months without a goal. But what exactly is it that is wrong with Benteke?
This has got to be the most logical choice, surely?
Benteke missed just four of Villa's games last season—the first three because he hadn't signed for the club and the last one through suspension after seeing red against Chelsea.
In between those two periods, the striker played 34 consecutive league matches and displayed an air of confidence that only regular game time can give you. The longest Benteke went without a goal last season was four games.
And after the first four games of this season, one was led to think Benteke had picked up exactly where he had left off. After scoring a brace in Villa's 3-1 win over Arsenal on the opening day of the season, he then grabbed goals against Chelsea and Newcastle.
Villa fans were left salivating at the thought of just how many times their man was going to find the back of the net, and talks of a goal drought couldn't have seemed further away.
However, the 23-year-old suffered a hip flexor injury in Villa's narrow 1-0 win over Norwich on Sept. 21 and subsequently missed the next two fixtures for his club.
|Benteke stats: 2013/14 v 2012/13|
|This Season||Last Season|
|264||Mins Per Goal||149|
During that time, though, he travelled with the Belgium national squad, despite Villa boss Paul Lambert stating that his player wasn't fully fit to feature. Benteke missed Belgium's first clash with Croatia and was then an unused substitute in a draw with Wales before returning to Villa, though he reportedly picked up a knee injury in training according to the Daily Mail's John Edwards.
He was back just five days after the draw with Wales and was given half an hour in a 2-0 loss to Spurs, but he looked way short of match fitness. And, in all honesty, he hasn't looked right ever since.
Lambert was keen to play down talk of a dry spell as the games went on, though the Villa boss dropped Benteke for the first time Dec. 4 as Villa impressively overcame Southampton 3-2 at St Mary's.
The Belgian has lacked his usual tenacity in recent weeks and has not been his usual bullish self. But with Villa entering a hectic period during which they needed points, it has hard to point the finger at Lambert for playing Benteke—even if he hasn't been 100 percent.
Lost ambition since signing his bumper deal
Now this may seem utterly ridiculous, but it has got to be an option.
What sort of 22-year-old (the age he was when he signed his new contract) would lack ambition playing in one of the best leagues in the world, for one of the biggest clubs (traditionally), in front of fans who worship his every move?
You're right: It doesn't make any sense, but it must at least be given a thought.
Benteke came to Villa on a four-year deal that would have initially seen him stay with the club until the end of the 2015/16 season. His first deal was worth a reported £1 million a year according to Neil Moxley of the Daily Mail—quite modest for a Premier League player, don't you think?
But without truly knowing how the Belgian would fare in England, it seemed like an appropriate sum of money for a player in his early 20s.
Things soon changed, however, as Benteke started to attract much attention from all over Europe, with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid linked with the player according to the Manchester Evening News and Paul Collins of the Daily Mail.
Such attention would surely turn a player's head, particularly one of such a young age and one who has had a meteoric rise to fame. And it did. Benteke handed in a transfer request.
It was soon resolved, though, with Villa announcing that their most-prized asset had signed a year's extension to his contract. And, as the Sun reported, it was worth a whopping £60,000-per-week—over double his original wage.
Now, you think that would be added incentive to endeavour to continue playing in the same manner after being shown a lot of love from your club—a club whose main aim is to drastically reduce the wage bill.
It certainly appeared to have given Benteke an added boost after the first four games of the season, but now questions are being raised as to whether the deal had a negative effect on his performances.
It does seem unlikely. Hugely unlikely, in fact, but you never know.
Whatever has happened to Villa's main man this season is certainly affecting their chances of breaking into the top half of the table.
Whether it has been bad luck with injuries, a lack of ambition or some other mysterious possibility, Villa will hope that Benteke finds the goal trail once more upon his return in the New Year.