There’s a delirium going around the fields of Anfield road as the Klopp-coloured haze descends upon Liverpool’s once fractured fanbase. It’s a wonderful thing, really, and suddenly what malaises Liverpool possessed under a stagnant regime have turned to the riveting, pulsating ecstasies. Concerns about a lack of goals have turned into the more welcomed discussions regarding the suitability of strikers; and thus we arrive at the crux of the debate.
Christian Benteke, what exactly is he?
Is he the Lewandowski lite many hoped Klopp could morph him into? Or is he the natural target man that will force us to compromise our playstyle?
The reality is he’s neither of those things; he’s something in between. The facts: the game against Bordeaux depicts the perfect, somewhat abstract portrait of Christian Benteke in a Liverpool shirt. He by all rights could have had a hattrick; two (correctly) disallowed goals and a won penalty provided the “almost” chances, while he did indeed score the goal that put Liverpool into the next round of the Europa League. Despite all of that however, the performance was emblematic of a target man playing in a high pressing system; lacking the technique to bring in players around him and not possessing the intensity or capability to provide the same movement as Daniel Sturridge or Roberto Firmino when deployed in the same position.
If the City, Chelsea and Southampton games represent the perfect Klopp strategy away from home; the intensity of the pressing and speed of movement blistering and electrifying and breathtaking and hundreds of other expletives Liverpool fans are relishing in, then the home games represent the scope of improvement.
The big Belgian started recent games against Bordeaux and Swansea, and it’s become abundantly clear to all that Daniel Sturridge is the striker we want. However, seeing as Sturridge has missed more games than he’s played for the club, a concern countered by his incredible scoring record, a side with Sturridge to lead it’s line on a consistent basis seems an unrealistic ambition.
However, Sturridge’s absence shouldn’t be felt as hard as it has been.
Firstly, let it be known that this writer does think Benteke is a tremendous footballer. However, tremendous footballers cannot possibly fit every system. Benteke represents the perfect target man; he’s strong in the air, is able to move past a high defence reasonably well and has a lethal right boot on him; as anyone who witnessed his superb overhead kick against Manchester United can attest to.
The problem lies in the system being greater than the sum of its parts; especially a Jürgen Klopp system. If a striker isn’t able to do the pressing; allowing the attackers next to him to create and use the space, then he must be able to use the space and let the attackers do the pressing. Neither can work without the other, as the Swansea game particularly attests to; the pressing existed without the movement and none of the opportunities created could manifest themselves into proper chances. Part of the problem was the lack of fluidity in the latter stages; Swansea’s deep line attributed to that, but the larger part could be attributed to Benteke’s lack of any real movement inside the box.
Despite the potential he displayed against Arsenal, Benteke has failed to replicate that style of movement; being able to beat the line, move in and around the box to get in between the centre halves and hover off the shoulder of the last defender.
The Different Type of Striker
Some would argue that those aren’t his strengths and therefore we shouldn’t play to them, but the team is more important than the sum of its parts. Individual cogs in a Jürgen Klopp team all work towards the same goal in unison; look at Robert Lewandowski as perfect evidence of that. His passing and linkup often meant he was integral to goals without being statistically relevant, he was as important to Shinji Kagawa, Mario Gotze or Marco Reus’s goals as they were to the ones he put the finishing touches on. Dortmund acted as a collective; just as Klopp’s Liverpool acted as a collective against Southampton.
Goals came from Origi beating the line, Brad Smith putting in a tremendous cross, and two supreme through balls from Joe Allen and Emre Can respectively to the inimitable Daniel Sturridge, as well as a lethal strike from Alberto Moreno. There were multiple dimensions to Liverpool, just as there were multiple dimensions to the side that dominated Manchester City off of their own park at the Etihad. Roberto Firmino and Phillipe Coutinho are the two most prominent talents outside of the aforementioned Daniel Sturridge in how Liverpool’s attack flows, and the system should be catered to the style of football that Klopp knows and that both Firmino and Coutinho are suited to; high octane, high pressure, high levels of movement in and around the box. Unfortunately, Benteke doesn’t yet possess the traits to fit in with that system.
Now, with all of the talk about the system, Benteke has had a pivotal role to play. He has scored important goals at important times and won Liverpool points on their own, and his entrance to the fixture at Stamford Bridge enhanced the game in Liverpool’s favour. Turn all talks of a price tag out the window; the best teams all have singular attributes in common; they possess multiple strikers who can change a game.
In Benteke, Liverpool have a real opportunity to cause havoc with opponents.
Daniel Sturridge’s injury record means Benteke’s presence is already welcomed, but even a fit Sturridge allows for the kind of tactical adaptability that managers only dream of Having the selection dilemma of Benteke and Sturridge is a welcome ordeal; especially with Divock Origi and Danny Ings waiting in the wings when next season rolls around. With an injured Sturridge; not an uncommon occurrence in truth, Benteke still represents a choice to be made.
Yes, he hampers the system, and the answer is relatively simple; buy another attacker who fits the mould of Roberto Firmino or Daniel Sturridge and can slot into the attack in multiple facets; whether it be leading the line up front or deployed slightly behind the striker in the attacking triumvirate.
Another attacker makes the system flow and function properly, meaning Benteke can come into games where he’s needed and add the gamechanging dimension that can alter games in Liverpool’s favour; against teams who sit deeper but don’t necessarily park the bus (think United, West Ham or Norwich), allowing him to occupy centre halves and make the kind of deft movements that lead to goals such as the winner against Bordeaux.
A Leroy Sane, Domenico Berardi or Kevin Volland would not only fit Klopp’s high intensity system but add to the service Liverpool can provide to Benteke when he does inevitably start games. Meanwhile, having the element of the dangerous Benteke in the side; whether it is starting for an injured Daniel Sturridge against a formidable Manchester United defence or coming on at the 67th minute mark against a resolute Newcastle can only be a good thing.
Should he want to start regular games, the cost to the system would be too great and his re-sale value would be enough to merit a reasonable sale. But the big Belgian is not for one second the reincarnation of Andy Carroll. He’s intelligent, he’s a good finisher and he’s one hell of a gamechanger. So until a time comes where it becomes a problem, having Christian Benteke supporting a fit and firing Daniel Sturridge is a testament Liverpool’s new-found resurgence.
All title contenders have firepower waiting in the ranks. It’s time we caught up to the pack.