Christian Benteke started his Liverpool career with a superb strike against Swindon, but there is still adapting for the Belgian to do to fit comfortably into Liverpool’s style of play, writes Ben Twelves.
The debut appearances of new-boys Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke ensured the pair were centre of attention in Liverpool’s final pre-season fixture against Swindon.
A sold-out County Ground watched on as the Brazilian instantly showed why he’s a perfect fit for the Reds attack, where he played in support of the £32million man whose stunning volley helped Brendan Rodgers’ side to a 2-1 win.
The Belgian’s strike, “a wonderful, wonderful goal” in the words of his manager, went some way to countering the many claims he’s just a target man, but there is still work to be done before the tag can be shaken off completely.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 2, 2015
Spearheading the front line with Firmino and Lazar Markovic in support, Benteke started very much on the fringes of the action in the opening exchanges, despite a change of shape that moved the new Brazilian to play almost alongside the striker.
The Belgian looked flat-footed and was slow to react to opportunity to launch attacks, despite the aid of the busy supporting cast of Markovic, Firmino and the incoming Joao Carlos Teixeira behind him.
And after 18 minutes of little involvement, the ex-Aston Villa man appeared to be caught cold when his weak finish from Firmino’s hard work and cut-back was easily kept out by Lawrence Vigouroux.
It was a chance the 24-year-old can’t afford to miss when the season opens next weekend, with him set to lead the line at Britannia Stadium next Sunday, providing fitness allows.
The rusty finish prompted more from Benteke, who thereafter showed some more promising signs of what he can offer going forward.
In open play, he began to drop deeper to provide a platform for attacking moves to be built on – something that saw Firmino then become the furthest man forward to ensure of a central presence to stretch the Town defence.
Emre Can became a more dominant force, marauding from midfield to join some tidy forward play, as Benteke brought others into the game with neat lay-offs and simple but intelligent passing to open the game up.
Attracting the attentions of Swindon defenders with his physicality, Benteke showed intelligence in drifting wide, freeing up the central attacking area for Firmino, Teixeira and Can in particular to enjoy room to occupy and create.
The German produced a couple of first half strikes on goal as a result, while Firmino, with the assistance of Teixeira orchestrated some tidy build up play.
But it was in and around the box, was where the Belgian was certainly most comfortable, and from there he offered a presence centrally Liverpool lacked last season.
It was from just outside the 18-yard area that the Belgian controlled Teixeira’s flick superbly, before swivelling and rifling home a sensational volley that showed real confidence and the underrated technical side of his game that Rodgers has been so quick to point to.
“It was a wonderful, wonderful goal. I was delighted, it was top-level technique. He looked really sharp and was a big presence for us.”
Benteke continued to pose a threat thereafter, and he could have returned to Merseyside with the match-ball had he not fired over from six yards from Markovic’s cut-back, and seen another effort disallowed for a tough-and-go offside call.
It was clear where the Belgian excels, providing there is service and support to supply him.
But for all his promising work as the focal point of Liverpool’s offense in danger areas, his contribution to open play still showed that Rodgers has work to do to integrate the Belgian into the system.
Benteke was on the periphery of the game for large parts, before he was replaced along with Firmino after 67 minutes, as fatigue crept in having endured a short and far from ideal pre-season.
He contributed only when he drifted – something that could have caused issues had it not been for Firmino’s willingness to provide the forward outlet beyond the big man.
Pressing from the front was slow – perhaps a sign of his slight lack of fitness and sharpness – as was his movement when play developed behind.
The Belgian international was too static at times as creators looked for a dart or signal of intent to feed.
Opportunities to craft clear chances were missed as a result, and for all his selfless play in dropping to create space and bring others into the game, going the other way is where Benteke must pose more of a threat outside the box.
With promising signs and improvements to make in equal measure, overall it was a mixed, though productive afternoon for Benteke.
Evidence is there that he could become a key man for Liverpool this season, but it’s down to the work of Rodgers and adaptation of the man himself to make it happen.