Player Focus: Christian Benteke vs. Exeter City – Good outside the box, missing inside it


Leading the line in an unexperienced Liverpool side in Wednesday night’s 3-0 FA Cup win over Exeter City, Christian Benteke once again showed his limitations.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 20, 2016: Liverpool's Christian Benteke in action against Exeter City's captain Matt Oakley during the FA Cup 3rd Round Replay match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A substitute in three of Liverpool’s previous four clashes, Benteke has endured a troubled time under his new manager, Jurgen Klopp.

Despite Benteke’s marginal status, with an out-of-position Roberto Firmino preferred as Liverpool’s first-choice No. 9 during this injury crisis, Klopp has publicly backed his £32.5 million man.

Speaking after Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, Klopp described Benteke as a “complete striker” — though this jarred with his words when explaining why he had been left out, saying “what we have to do is think what team fits together for the special game.”

Benteke’s “special game” came in a youthful Liverpool side against Exeter at Anfield, but while Klopp will have been more diplomatic as he walked around the Belgian’s deficiencies, BT Sport commentator Michael Owen ruthlessly admonished his fellow striker.

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Though far from the most astute of critics typically, Owen was faultless in detailing Bentekes’ flaws.


Attacking Spearhead

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 20, 2016: Liverpool's Christian Benteke in action against Exeter City during the FA Cup 3rd Round Replay match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Lining up at the tip of a three-man Liverpool attack, Benteke was fielded in the focal role of Klopp’s 4-3-3, flanked by a diligent Joao Carlos Teixeira and a player with a point to prove in Jordon Ibe.

With Exeter sitting back meekly and allowing the first half to play out ahead of them, Klopp’s tactics pinned the League Two side back.

Against a lowly opposition shrinking into themselves, Benteke would be expected to dominate but, as Owen soon found, this was far from the case at Anfield.

The game plan for Liverpool’s No. 9 was clear, with both Teixeira and Ibe heavily involved, sending a host of dangerous crosses in from wide areas, while Cameron Brannagan provided another threat from set pieces.

This saw Owen recall Benteke’s time at Aston Villa:

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“All I would say is Aston Villa didn’t half play to this strengths, they knew they had a special talent.

“Everything went through him, and every time anyone got the ball, they’d knock it in, cross it in.”

When Benteke moved towards the six-yard box against Exeter, he was at his most dangerous, as a series of moves in the opening 20 minutes showed.

With Teixeira heading towards the by-line before crossing, Benteke is stationed in the optimum position in the six-yard box.
With Teixeira heading towards the by-line before crossing, Benteke is stationed in the optimum position in the six-yard box.
Benteke then finds himself in a similar position, with Ibe sending a cross from the right.
Benteke then finds himself in a similar position, with Ibe sending a cross from the right.
With Allen passing the ball out the Teixeira, Benteke headed straight to the far post...
With Allen passing the ball out the Teixeira, Benteke headed straight to the far post…
...and though his header was just too high, his movement was intelligent.
…and though his header was just too high, his movement was intelligent.

But seemingly straying from the game plan at times, Benteke adopted a tendency to drop towards the edge of the penalty area in order to collect the ball and instigate attacking moves.

Therefore, while Teixeira and Ibe continued to produce intelligent work on the flanks, Benteke was not always there to benefit.


Looking to turn creator rather than finisher throughout, Benteke also drifted into wide areas, attempting to influence play.

On 36 minutes, the striker found the ball in a nice position on the right flank, and after beating his man at the first attempt, could have fashioned an opening with a cross.


Employing a number of bemusing stepovers, however, Benteke surged towards the by-line before running the ball out of play, with Owen labelling his decision as “strange”:

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“He did so well, Benteke.

“He beat his man, made a lovely little run, decided to go on his own with that pace, power, could get a cross in but [then] decides to stop. Strange.”


Pace, Power & the Counter-Attack

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 20, 2016: Liverpool's Sheyi Ojo celebrates scoring the second goal against Exeter City during the FA Cup 3rd Round Replay match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With Benteke having little success in his role dropping into the spaces in the channels, Klopp moved to a 4-2-3-1 formation in the second half, bringing on Sheyi Ojo.

Ojo took up a right-sided role, with Ibe switching to the left and Teixeira operating as a No. 10, and Liverpool adopted a fast-paced, counter-attacking approach.


Ojo came into life shortly after his sensational 74th-minute strike, and the 18-year-old found time and space on the right-hand side of the Exeter box, looking to play the ball to Benteke.

But with the move taking time to develop, Benteke moved out of a dangerous position, provoking more criticism from Owen:

“Just look where Benteke’s standing when they cross the ball. He’s the centre-forward, and he pulls out onto the edge of the box.

“I just don’t know what he’s doing, [he’s] so frustrating to watch.”

He later added further analysis on the move:

“I pull my hair out watching Benteke. It’s good play, the young lads passing it around waiting for the opportunity to pass the ball and he just runs out of the box.

“I just do not know where he’s running, no wonder he doesn’t score many goals at the moment.”

With Ojo continuing to enjoy space on the right flank throughout the second half, Benteke’s poor movement stymied several promising opportunities, as the striker constantly dropped back.


A familiar situation arose for the Belgian in the closing stages of Wednesday night’s clash as, with Exeter throwing everything at Liverpool for a late set-piece, Pedro Chirivella led an overwhelming counter.

Chirivella laid it off to Benteke on the break but—as on several occasions recently—Benteke’s lack of confidence saw a very promising move break down, with the striker failing to either convert the chance or lay it off to an awaiting team-mate.

Owen, who benefited from a number of lightning-fast counters in his time as a player, was once again frustrated:

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“It’s typical of what he’s going through at the moment, just a total lack of confidence.

“When you’re running through one-on-one, you’re in control, you dictate where the goalkeeper goes, you dictate everything—you’ve got the ball!

“It’s head down, it’s touch, and he should be squaring it, he should swallow his pride and square it straight away, but it’s just a total lack of confidence.”

As Owen repeated the word “confidence,” the former Liverpool star hit on the crux of the problem for Benteke, with ex-Villa man failing to play through instinct.


Confused and Cowed


When he did, for example in bursting forward in a breathtaking counter, holding it up with strength and the laying on the perfect pass for Teixeira’s strike, he proved to be an invaluable option in Liverpool’s attack.

But at this stage, Benteke is largely overthinking situations, overcomplicating Klopp’s game plan and, in turn, confusing himself when it comes to his role in the Liverpool attack.

One move he’s Andy Carroll, the next he’s Romelu Lukaku, then he’s Fernando Torres; and none with much efficiency.

Klopp was asked about Benteke in post-match interview with BT, with the German highlighting his work in “the spaces around the box” as being a positive.

Klopp saw what we saw; Benteke did good work outside the box, but was missing inside the box – which is where he needs to be.

To his credit, Benteke tried to plough a different furrow against Exeter, but his positioning and movement was worrying.

Klopp will want more from his No. 9, and with Firmino taking up a regular role in the Premier League, and Liverpool submitting a £25 million bid for 26-goal Alex Teixeira the morning after this win, it is clear that Benteke’s contributions are not enough.

Though he produced some positive moves against League Two Exeter on Wednesday night, Benteke’s disappointing overall game suggests the end could be near under Klopp.

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  1. Klopp Kidz [email protected]

    Tim Sherwood:”no point moving to a club where they don’t cross the ball”

    Bodgers:”Benteke can adapt perfectly to the Anfield passing style”

    Benteke:”It is not just about crossing; I can score normal goals, too. I told him I am not afraid about it. If Liverpool bought me, then they know how to use me. Is that aspect of my game overlooked? I think so – that is why I came here and I can show I can play with my feet, too”

    The biggest problem with Benteke is that he is still trying to justify the statement he made above in response to the comments made by his ex-boss and then-current-boss.

    • You might be right but the klopp’s system will not help Benteke because Benteke can’t play a false 9 as well as others.

    • I actually agree with his statement. He does have good feet for a big man. Benteke’s main problem is confidence, and EXACTLY what Owen pointed out during the Exeter game…he runs back to the edge of the box a lot rather than getting into the 6 yard box.
      Balotelli used to do the same thing. Was never there when we put a ball across the box or crossed it in because he dropped too deep.
      If Klopp addresses that and can get him into the box more he’ll do just fine. He’s not as bad as everyone is making out

      • It’s almost like damn if he does and damn if he doesn’t. If he stays in the box they call him lazy and static, if he moves to the edge to draw a defender out they call him out of position.

      • The demands on mobility in Klopp’s systems are still a major work in progress for him. To be fair, he is one of the players whose default game would need significant work to adapt. Slowly, and thankfully, his work outside the box is improving. The low confidence is his biggest problem and ultimately hampers his progress towards permitting Klopp to mould him into a potent starting option. It even puts doubt in his team mates’ minds as to whether to pass him the ball. He is still not where he needs to be in terms of regaining his advanced position after dropping deep to collect. Little wonder, then, that the greatest overall impact he has had on overall team performance is in the headed pass and defensive headers.

        The most painful thing to watch is the fact that he doesn’t seem up to employing his reputation-earning strengths, namely lethal finishing along the ground and aerially especially within the box. It is crucial that he find the back of net “yesterday” and Carrow Road would be a good place to start.

    • And everyone else is still convinced that he can’t do it. For me that’s a problem with the above analysis: everyone assumes the only thing Benteke can do is be a large body in the 6 yard box. So when he’s not doing that it’s layed out to him as a criticism, as if he’s doing something wrong by not fitting that idea. The proposed solution still seems to be pushing Benteke back into that limited role as someone who can only score from crosses but I don’t agree with that. For me a better solution is to utilise that side of his game when it’s appropriate but otherwise to play to that other side of his game. Benteke DOES score goals in other ways and he can make great passes. Oddly enough for all this criticism he was crucial in the creation of two goals against Exeter, showing exactly those skills that he’s talking about, but he receives next to no praise for that. It’s like he can’t win. If he goes back to being just a receiver of crosses then he proves everyone’s point that this is all there is to his game. If he doesn’t then he’s criticised for not playing to his supposed strengths that everyone else pre-defines for him.

      • Klopp Kidz [email protected]

        What you said is true. Unfortunately a striker’s ultimate goal is to score goals, and that is how people will judge him. Benteke’s movements and positional sense still leaves much to be desired. What is more upsetting is that he is all too often without movement, which makes people perceive that he is not putting in enough effort.

        • I think it comes down to his instincts. He’s been allowed to play purely his own style of game for quite a while now, teams have always just played to his strengths. It has never required him to think much so he’s doing things that I guess he doesn’t really know why he does them but they have always worked more or less. Then when a manager says to try something else it confuses him and doesn’t gel with his instincts. So he kind of ends up just standing around, not knowing what to do. At the top level you often only have less than a second to react to a situation, otherwise you’re half a step behind. That requires instinct, no thought, just action. Right now Benteke’s instincts are wrong for a team like Liverpool and while he has the skill set to do better, he’s still learning to adjust his natural tendencies. It’s not that he’s incapable of moving well, it’s that he’s trying to do things that are not yet 100% natural, and so he looks slow, ponderous and confused.

          • Klopp Kidz [email protected]

            well, let’s just hope he learns fast and will fit into the new style instinctively soon.

          • Sometimes when I see him made the movement to draw 1 or 2 defenders out and open space for his teammates, that’s what you want for a striker besides scoring goals. I think he does move the key issue for him is he will need to make such movement at the right time at the right moment as you said they only have a second on those open opportunity. So at this point he is still learning about his teammates where they move to and of course sometimes when he moves it look strange I heard a commentator asking why he moved to the edge of box when Ibe tried to cross into 6 yard. So in that case he just moved for the sake of moving which explain some of his strange movement. I do think by the end of the season having him played with Firmino and others he will know where they go and vice versa they know where he ends up. We do put lots of pressures on guys that’s the reality.

          • Klopp Kidz [email protected]

            We miss Suarez. He has a fantastic first touch, he runs into the right positions, he creates space for his team mates, he can dribble or ram through a bus parked by the opponents, he can score with his head, left leg, right leg and he gets up and play after been tackled to the ground. This guy runs through the pain barrier unlike some soft lad that can’t even complete his “mini pre-season”.

  2. I just hope he improves. We should get the ball to him more often than we do. He’s often left pointing where he would like a pass and we ignore it and head to the wings giving defenders longer to get back in position. In 1 on 1s he’s been shocking but it’s confidence or lack of it.

  3. Benteke has missed a few good chances and his movement has to improve.

    Having said that, I do think he’s a good player who is a bit short on confidence. He’s scored 6 league goals on limited minutes and has created a few more goals.

    One of the main problems for him (or any LFC striker) is that our midfield (barring Coutinho) is not creative and do not score goals themselves. The supply to Benteke is often minimal and we rarely get runners around him. This leaves him isolated and allows the opposition to close him down quickly, because they aren’t worried about any of our attacking midfielders like Lallana/Ibe/Milner because they offer no goal threat.

    The other problem is we have tended to play with 3 no. 10’s behind Benteke, which means we are narrow going forward except for the full backs. And our two regular full backs are poor crossers.

    Benteke absolutely has to play better, but I think he has a future at LFC. I would like to see him and Firmino up front together in a 442 v. Norwich. Given our goalscoring problems, we need our best goal threats on the pitch.

  4. If there is a proper crosser of a ball in the team, and benteke’s aerial duel stats inproves, i think there is a slot for him in lfc.

  5. If he stays in the box– benteke is so immobile he is too static.
    Comes behind to take balls- benteke stays out of position.why doesnt he go inside the box?

  6. I think this analysis is guilty of pigeon-holing Benteke as only useful in the 6 yard box. We all know he is good in the air and can head the ball. It’s not a surprise, he’s a big guy. But if you look at this goal scoring from his seasons at Villa you’ll find that although he scores quite a few with his head, he also scores plenty with his boot. When he does, it’s typically from the edge of the penalty area. Anyone who watches enough of Benteke will recognise this and he’s scored a couple of goals for Liverpool from such a position. What he’s doing in the images above is finding that exact space. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because it can be a bit of a no-man’s land for defenders and it has clearly worked for him through his career.

    So while Owen is agonising over why Benteke is in such a position I’d say it’s because Owen doesn’t really watch all that much of Benteke or think particularly hard about how he scores his goals. Just because he’s good in the air doesn’t mean he can’t score from other positions in the box. The bottom line is that strikers should find space. If there are three defenders and a keeper in the six yard box then maybe throwing a cross in there isn’t going to be very useful.

    I don’t disgaree that Benteke is out of sorts but I think it’s not necessarily a case of him being incapable. He has a particular set of instincts that he acts on. He DOES find space, it’s just not always where his team mates expect him to do so. It’s also entirely possible that Benteke is making the right moves but his team mates are not yet too sure of how to find him. It’s correct to say that at Villa they just kept pinging the ball at him. Eventually that strategy will work, no matter where he is in the box. At Liverpool it’s different and it would be a waste of everyone else’s talents. Balls to Benteke have to be well timed. He has to be in a place that his team mates expect and they need to get the ball to him. Benteke is only 1/2 of that equation and I’m not entirely convinced he is always at fault.

    The long term solution for Klopp is to work out exactly what Benteke can and cannot do. There is no point getting him to try things he’s not good at without plenty more training. Limit him to a few predictable strategies and then stick to those. The rest of team will then be better able to find themselves on the same wavelength, more passes will stick, crosses will find the man more often and Benteke will have less chance to get confused and wonder what his role is. But doing all of that takes time which is why Klopp isn’t rushing to any conclusions. First of all the manager needs to work out the best strategy and then he needs to drill that into his team.

    • I agree that some of the edge-of-the-box positions he takes up can be dangerous too. Good point that he is indeed looking for space. Maybe just needs more team training time so they all get on the same page with multiple options available in attacking situations.

  7. Owen also said that the reason why he gets so frustrated watching Benteke is because he feels that he can be so much better if he improved his decision making. I have to say I agree…that’s part of the reason everyone is making so much noise even if they don’t realize it. I do feel bad for the players that have to provide for him because his movement is wildly unpredictable. You never know when he’s going to pull back and whenever he does it’s not just a step or two, he seems to go back 5-10 yards.

    I really do think that most of his problems are of a mental nature…the LFC integration project continues for the moment. I also do feel that part of the reason why he’s found it tough to adapt is because of the kind of player he is. He’s not exactly quick and full of movement at all times, his pace and tempo of play does not match the rest of the team. Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana can all link up pretty well in that sense. But, as can be seen from his stats and the good moments thus far, there’s obviously something in there.

  8. Honestly if ben plays as he normally does it will b appreciated. Seeing him dribble and run around makes me vomit. He is a good striker. Some1 who can do damage in the box. We just need to put simple crosses in and ben needs to be IN the box and not OUT of it ffs.

  9. I have full faith in benteke, he will do good in near future, I have no doubt about it. He is not a bad player. He is good with head and feet, technically and powerwise he is not lacking. Only problem is he has to make a lot of movement in liverpool because of high fluidity in movements and now when he is learning to make movements in attack, he is making bad decisions at the right time. He will be pointed out and helped by coaches with this deficiency and he will come good. Klopp know’s it and that’s why he also tried to sign him in dortmund, but he was effing costly.

  10. Benteke’s downturn may just be a ‘confidence’ thing but likely there are other factors. Interesting, how often he lost headers to Exeter defenders, which suggests lack of effort too.

    Positional sense ( or lack of ) in the box may be a conscientious attempt to play to feet, but feel the absence of good and timely crosses has factored into this. At Villa, the supply was quick and fast and not deliberate as with Ibe, Milner and co, where too often the momentum of catching defenders on the back foot is lost.

    Also having to gel with youngsters he has not played with often, could be unsettling, Benteke not the type of player to lead. The miss at the very end was definitely a bad / selfish decision where a lay off would’ve been the better percentage play, clearly a striker not in the zone.

    Opting to start Firmino in a false 9 role against the likes of City, Chelsea, Arsenal & ManUre would surely have affected Benteke’s psyche, who’d expect to have lead the line, what with the striker crisis.

    Considering we still have a lot of games to play ( Cup-wise ) its up to Klopp to address these issues on the training pitch because there is plenty of opportunity to come good. One would be, to play 2 strikers in close proximity and build a big small partnership especially at Anfield where the onus is on us to attack, but that means play a 442 not 4231 or 433.

    And, decision making in the box has been an issue for all our forward line, often the simple lay off or pass dismissed for personal glory and the inevitable failure to score from.

  11. Benteke must be one of the most unluckiest players at Liverpool today. I thought he played well, bar scoring a goal. The run he went on prior to passing to Tex for the third goal was classy and so unlike him. This is what we should celebrate and encourage because it shows that he can dribble, hold the ball up well and create chances for his teammates. If he can do this consistently, I won’t complain about him. Or will I?

  12. Personally I think he is going to struggle with the way Klopp wants to play. As a plan B option he is way to expensive for a bit part player. I hope he can adapt or else it will be more money we have wasted.

  13. Just now getting to watch the Exeter game, and after 15 minutes it seems like Benteke is playing good, but he’s just playing the wrong role. For instance, Allen’s goal should have realistically been scored by Benteke and probably then setup by Allen. Look at his movement after he lays the ball off, he’s so static which can’t be right for an out and out striker. He’s gotta be sprinting towards the 6 yard box for the follow up surely.

    We’ve got players like Ibe playing at the minute that aren’t playing a game that supports a player of Benteke’s calibre. When watching Liverpool games that Ibe plays I constantly find myself urging Ibe to cross earlier. By delaying so much he just allows for better organisation of our opposition’s defense that tends to nullify any crosses (Where Benteke really shines). Look at how early the cross was for Benteke’s goal against Southampton (the 1-1 match). Benteke carries a level of pace that combined with his strength would make him a nightmare for defences, but he needs that element of surprise (via quicker crosses). Running onto a header is always going to be way more effective than trying to score from a standstill situation. Momentum should always be in the attacker’s favor. He’s a fairly speedy ‘big man’ type of player, but he’s mostly being ignored by selfish attempts at goal.

    Between Ibe being too slow, and our other attacking midfielders not carrying the characteristics of a conventional winger (mainly emphasis on crossing over cutting in and shooting). Benteke is really struggling, and the pressure of playing for Liverpool is just making this fact worse.

    I personally think amending this issue through Benteke is much easier than changing the whole team’s dynamic to fit for Benteke’s playstyle. And as a fan, I would much prefer the current playstyle to be the way forward than a ‘cross and hope’ approach which is what would seemingly work for when Benteke plays.

    • I agree on everything but the conclusion. I think we need to have more than one playstyle as an option.
      Your second and third paragraphs are spot on though. Maybe Markovi? could help remedy some of that. I’m frustrated by the fact that the likes of Crystal Palace and West Ham can have really good wingers, and we seemingly can’t.

      • When he played well Markovic was one of my favourites last year. I remember being well gutted when he got harshly sent off when he’d just got subbed on against Basel. It looked like he was going to provide a much needed boost. Similar in a way to when Gerrard got sent off against United.

        He seems like a player who would really perform much better under Klopp. Could definitely use him now, there’s a gap for a player like him in the team (especially when Benteke is playing).

  14. Well, Jack, I think you found your match in the value of opinion – Owen.
    What the traitor himself should remember is that his clever movement and confidence did nothing for him when he left Liverpool. He went down quicker than a rock in a river.
    The problem with people’s perception of Benteke is that they choose a different criteria each time, and each time they choose it in order to label him as trash. He can score game-winning goals, change games, assist.. But no, it’s all about movement. I get the feeling that if he scored 50 goals in a season, they’d still be saying stuff like that.
    I can see a headline: Benteke scores 50 goals, but frustrates..” I think Fabio Borini was the perfect striker for these people, as I said before. Runs like crazy. Doesn’t score goals, but that’s not what striker are about, is it?

  15. Benteke’s problem is that he just won’t attack the space (in front of him). Always pulls back, or runs out of the box where a midfielder should be. Or he doesn’t and gets stuck under the ball.
    For me he’s much worse than people think he is.

  16. To much criticism of benteke if either of our full backs could cross the ball he’d be more effective. Put someone upfront with him for a few games and judge him afer them .try to get our players to cross the bal first time instead of ten touches first and judge him then .bottom line last. Week is if he was playing against united Fellini wouldn’t have won that header

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