In his weekly Liverpool blog, Dave Tindall ponders Jurgen Klopp’s £32.5m striker ‘problem’ Christian Benteke and has a word of sympathy for ousted Real Madrid manager Rafael Benitez.
Joy and despair normally take turns when it comes to writing this column.
One week, I’m patting on us the back, saying all looks rosy; the next, I’m reflecting on a lame and woeful defeat.
The contrasts have been stark:
Daytime defeat (West Ham) against night-time victory (Stoke)
Anger (Klopp post-match on Saturday) and delight (Klopp post-match on Tuesday)
Slow start (Upton Park) v Fast start (Britannia)
There’s also another comparison that jumps out…….
Benteke starting v Benteke on the bench
The difference between the two performances was astonishing and, for me and many other Liverpool fans, it’s glaringly obvious to pinpoint the chief factor. And, regretfully, given how much we forked out for him, the torch needs to be shone on our £32.5m striker.
Christian Benteke’s lack of movement in the defeat to West Ham stood out like a sore thumb. He was lethargic on the ground and bullied out of it in the air (he won just three of 12 aerial duels).
Of course, he doesn’t intend to play this way but, as was the case with Mario Balotelli (yes, I’m that annoyed, I’m comparing Benteke to the Italian flop), his lack of mobility and air of half-heartedness spreads throughout the team like a virus.
With the focal point static, opposition defenders have an easy target. Compare that to the alternative when Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana are zipping around at all sorts of angles, pulling centre-backs out of position and generally creating headaches.
The energy and fluidity of those front three sets the stage for Klopp’s gegenpressing and, when the midfielders join in (how good was Joe Allen against Stoke?!), Liverpool can hunt in packs and win the ball high up the pitch. We saw it numerous times in the 4-1 win at Man City and it worked a treat early on at the Britannia, allowing us to grab the all-important first goal.
There is an obvious case for the defence when it comes to Benteke. Take a look at Liverpool’s results this season and three times he’s scored the winner in a 1-0 success. Turning draws into wins means that’s six points right there the big Belgian has contributed.
My argument would be that, had he not been playing, who’s to say we wouldn’t have won these games more easily? It simply isn’t a coincidence that he played only the final 13 minutes in the 4-1 win at City and didn’t leave the bench in the 6-1 triumph at Southampton.
He was also absent from the 3-2 win over Aston Villa while he was a 64th-minute sub in the 3-1 win at Chelsea. The four games I’ve mentioned are the only matches in which we’ve scored three or more times in a match this season and Benteke didn’t start any of them. Okay, he got the third at Stamford Bridge, but we were leading and controlling the match already.
Benteke doesn’t fit in
Quite simply, Benteke doesn’t fit in. Klopp wants fast, loud, heavy metal football, but the only headbanging being done when our No.9 is labouring around is Liverpool fans butting walls and palms.
It’s stupid to write him off as a poor player (seven goals in 22 matches for us so far certainly beats Balotelli’s pathetic return of 1 in 16 Premier League games) but, as was the case with Andy Carroll, he doesn’t fit our system. Benteke is a square peg in a round hole.
The logical conclusion to this argument is should we cut our losses and sell him in the transfer window?
I very much doubt this will happen, but if Klopp could line up a replacement (going back to Dortmund for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be rather nice), I’d shake Benteke by the hand, say sorry it didn’t work out and wave him on his way.
Benteke is still relatively young at 25 but, even at that age, you can’t just change styles however many ‘man conversations’ you have with your manager. Benteke is what he is and, I’m afraid, he’s cramping our style.
If you think my criticism of Benteke is all incredibly unfair, let’s talk about a proper injustice.
Sticking up for Rafa
A quiz question: Has there ever been a manager sacked after his side had won their previous four home games 3-1, 10-2, 8-0 and 4-1? That’s a combined 25-3 at an average goals per game of 6.25.
If you want more context, the team in question, Real Madrid, have scored more goals in their last four home games than Liverpool have managed in 20 Premier League games this season – 22 v 25.
And yet, despite those stats, Rafa Benitez was unceremoniously given the boot from the Bernabeu this week.
What was his crime? Not telling Cristiano Ronaldo what a clever boy he was every five minutes? By the way, how much make-up is Ronaldo wearing these days?
I’ve read this week the usual rubbish about Benitez being a poor manager, one of the negatives his failure to win the Premier League despite the riches of Alonso, Mascherano and Torres at his disposal.
Firstly, he signed all those players and, secondly, Liverpool got 86pts when runners-up in 2009 (Man City won the title with that same tally two years ago….. as we, painfully, know). We lost just twice in 38 games that season.
There’s also the little matter of two Champions League finals in three years and making us officially the top ranked club in Europe following, ironically enough, a 1-0 win away to Real Madrid. Yep, Rafa was no good at all, was he.
With all the politics going on at Real Madrid, he’s probably best off out of it anyway.
Rather than dwelling on seasons past or even just Tuesday’s win at Stoke, of more pressing importance is Liverpool’s horrendous injury list.
Two more were added to the wounded pile on at the Britannia as Coutinho and Lovren both had to be taken off early.
The situation at centre-back is getting ridiculous and I’m still not quite sure how we emerged with a clean sheet with Kolo Toure (also limping at the end) and Lucas playing there.
Goodness knows who we play in central defence away to Exeter in the FA Cup on Friday night. What’s Alan Hansen doing these days? Could Klopp reprise King Kenny’s player-manager role and have a go. He’d certainly be good at organising his defence and shouting at those around him.
Oh, hang on, I’ve got a solution. It’s a bit left-field but he’s a muscular presence and usually excellent in the air.
Go on Jurgen, I dare you….. give Benteke a game there!