The Christian Benteke Conundrum
With Palace’s Premier League season at an end, the future of our Belgian big man is certain to come under scrutiny.
Christian Benteke’s poor goal scoring this season has been made much of around the league, with the £32million man only notching three goals all campaign.
His quality is hard to question when looking back at his scintillating form at Aston Villa, and indeed his first season with the Eagles, where he scored seventeen goals in all competitions. However, with statistics such as expected goals showing that his poor finishing directly contributed to Palace underachieving for much of the season, it may be time for Steve Parish and Roy Hodgson to look for alternatives, either within the squad or by strengthening over the summer.
With Palace’s deep injury crisis keeping Benteke, Alexander Sorloth and Connor Wickham out of the team at different times, Hodgson has been forced to be creative with Palace’s forward line, opting to play Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend up top as a pair.
This has seen a complete change in our style of play, where the ball has been quickly played through the middle, with the front two causing havoc against many centre-backs by dropping off, running in behind and floating out wide. The change has seen a far better string of results, whilst also getting some of the very best football of their careers out of Zaha and Townsend.
This is a stark contrast to the style of play adopted when Benteke leads the line, where the midfield is often bypassed in favour of long balls, with lots of pressure being put on the wingers to deliver quality balls in. Nobody can deny Benteke’s prowess in the air and hold up play, but unfortunately, so far for Palace the rest of his game has been called into question, and it is hard to see him slotting in to the current style of play.
Although he does offer something different, it is arguable that the return of Wickham and the promising Norwegian Sorloth offer very similar attributes, while they both take up a much smaller part of the wage bill and have less potential sale value.
Some of the biggest questions over the summer for Palace arise through this situation – do they stick with Benteke and change the system back? Do they keep Benteke as a rather expensive option off the bench? Do they sell him on and replace him with someone who will fit the new style, such as Danny Ings, or Michail Antonio, who have both been linked with moves to Selhurst Park?
As a record signing, nearly all Palace fans are still desperate to see Benteke at his best, but is it time to admit that playing the way we need to, to unlock his potential costs us too much in other areas?
Although, the fact that a player of Benteke’s quality can even be regarded as disposable shows how promising the squad is looking. That potential and management for the upcoming season looks to scale new heights for Palace heading into their sixth successive Premier League campaign.