Liverpool has been an interesting team the past three years because they, well, look totally different each season. In the 2013/2014 season, the SAS combo of Suarez and Sturridge wreaked havoc on opposing English defenses scoring a combined 52 goals. Steven Gerrard fed ball after ball when SAS wasn’t doing it for each other, while up-and-comers Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho learned how to replicate the magic in front of them . Then, all of a sudden, Suarez was at Barcelona, Sturridge was out, and Gerrard finally showed his age. The offense went from absolutely explosive, to absolutely dismal within the matter of a few months. Brendan Rogers could not muster up enough offense to even be considered presentable, despite the additions of Mario Balotelli and the shift of Raheem Sterling from the wing to striker. At the beginning of the 2015/2016 season, Rogers was ousted for his team’s poor performance, but not before adding former Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke.
Benteke cost the Liverpool ownership a hefty €32.5 million, which made many Liverpool fans skeptical at the time, especially given the mediocre transfers from the summer before. The main concern was that Benteke was a typical power forward in an offense that was not meant for that type of player. Liverpool had the fewest cross goals last year in the Premier League, something Benteke specialized in. The transfer seemingly did not fit the Reds.
But Benteke has been a very good player this year, significantly outpacing his production from the past two years. He is continuing much of his effective style, but has adjusted his game to play more efficiently.
Benteke has been playing more possession-oriented game, ranking third in the Premier League in possession score for forwards with more than 500 minutes played this season (Pedro, Bony are 1,2). He’s been employing tactics like this:
Here’s a 30-second video of him doing this a few more times in his next match against Chelsea.
The old Benteke would try and center those balls at his feet, take the ball up field by himself with no support, and rarely ever score.While he may never technically gain possession, the point is that he does not gain possession and then lose it. He creates opportunities for fast breaks up midfield by taking the ball off his chest, directing it towards a teammate to retain possession. Not only does he help his teammates out, but he helps himself out. In the first .gif, and from :05 to :09 in the Liverpool Gifs video, he receives a long pass, passes it off his chest, then moves up field past a defender. This move allows Liverpool players to be creative, like to move to midfield, drawing Benteke’s man in closer, leaving the Belgian exposed to receive a through ball for a potential 1 vs 1 opportunity for the striker.
And it seems he hasn’t had to sacrifice anything to play this more all-around game. Benteke’s accuracy has stayed about the same as last year, and his key passes are on pace to be the same as last year as well. His assists are hard to gauge, as last year he only earned two, and he has one this year. It seems as if he has been more strategic in his approach, and it’s showing up in his stats.
It’s still early in the season, but Benteke has consistently shown he can be more than a one-trick pony. His diversified game should pay dividends for Liverpool in its attempt to re-gain a Top 4 position, and I’m sure Jurgen Klopp appreciates his striker’s efforts.