How do Crystal Palace get the most out of Christian Benteke?

Written by Jim Daly

He cost £28m in the summer but are Palace getting value for money from their record signing?

Everything is a bit bleurgh at the moment at Palace. Nothing seems to be clicking. A new manager is here with a legacy of keeping teams up and even he doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact after six games.

The first win wasn’t glorious, it was a case of a struggling team coming from behind against a League One side after going a goal down with boos from the home fans. But there was one positive; Christian Benteke scored twice and entered double figures for Palace.

The Belgian striker obviously became the club’s all time most expensive forward - by some way - when he arrived from Liverpool for £28m last summer. And his arrival was seen by many fans as a solution to the club’s goalscoring problems of the past few years and that big name player that will take the Eagles into the Top 8.

It’s proven to be nothing of the sort, and despite a decent return so far - nearly one goal every other game - there have been much bigger problems exposed in recent months. Namely a goalkeeper who doesn’t know what it’s doing, a defence who has no confidence and a threadbare midfield. But still Benteke is taking flack off fans, and it must be said, members of the FYP podcast.

And with some justification. Two missed penalties this season have both been terrible efforts and in most games his lethargic swagger looks to supporters on the touchline like a lack of passion, certainly when the team are up against it and finding goals and games hard to come by.

It feels at times like the club are not getting value for money for a £28m striker and many games have largely passed the Belgian international by. But earlier in the season he was on a hot streak as Palace won at Sunderland, Middlesbrough and later when they grabbed a much needed win at home to Southampton. So is he doing well or not?

Ten goals in 22 games certainly doesn’t seem bad and is in fact the same he managed for Liverpool in 42 games during what was a much highlighted nightmare spell. If he continues in current form he could end the season on 20+ goals and Palace haven’t had a striker reach that amount since the days of Andy Johnson a decade ago.

But are Palace getting the most out of their record signing? A look at his 49 goals for Aston Villa suggests the notion of Benteke being this big target man is a bit wide of the mark. He always played alongside someone else up front for the Villans and only 16 out of that 49 were with his head. His strength seems to be that poachers’ instinct in the box; much like Dwight Gayle previously at Selhurst Park.

However with Sam Allardyce’s appointment at Palace, Benteke is likely to expect more balls up to his head than his feet in the coming months. Plenty have suggested he is a perfect Allardyce player but like the slightly misguided notion that Big Sam teams always play long ball there is a weird given that Benteke is a big guy so prefers it in the air against burly centre-backs.

This was never the case, certainly not at Villa, as blogger James Clarke tells us in the video above. And his current Palace team isn’t unfamiliar with playing a shorter game, something Alan Pardew spent months trying to implement, at times with great success.

But the current side is massively lacking confidence and trying to get a team to play like that when they are mostly afraid of giving the ball away could be disastrous. You can almost feel the uncertainly in the air at Selhurst at the moment as the teams come out.

So what’s the solution? Certainly Palace need to get more out of Benteke but it still should be acknowledged he is far from a flop. Even for £28m, 10 goals in 22 games is a decent return, and it should of course be 12 goals given those two horror penalties. He’s clearly a clever player and much like Glenn Murray thinks a step or two ahead of the play to anticipate where the ball will end up.

But Murray also seemed to have more about him. He was a wiser older head and used that experience of having played throughout the lower leagues to his advantage in the top flight; often winning free-kicks against defenders by knowing when to take the foul, when to add a sly elbow into the ribs to get an advantage. Benteke gives away a lot of free-kicks (the fourth highest in the Premier League this season) and almost looks naive in doing so at times. Imagine having a wily old head like Murray at the club still to teach hand down some advice in this department…

Benteke is far from a failure and time will tell whether the decision to splash out £28m on his was a good decision. His signing was certainly one of a handful of marquee signings Pardew made when perhaps the squad needed more experienced workers in various departments but that’s a legacy that’s left in the squad with a number of names like that (one of whom might be heading back to Newcastle already...).

Benteke is certainly the sort of striker Palace haven’t had for years (possibly ever) and has the talent to fire the Eagles away from the drop, as he did for Villa on numerous occasions. But currently it doesn’t feel like the management are getting the best out of him. Whether it be adding a strike partner (which could, of course, already be happening had Connor Wickham not got injured) is the way or a change in training schedule isn’t clear, but it’s obvious he is an unfinished project that has the potential to be one of the club’s greatest.

His achievements so far should certainly be acknowledged but shouldn’t stop there. The whole club can do a lot better than it currently is and that starts with the man up top. Let’s hope 2017 brings more goals his way and more of whatever 2016 didn’t have to Palace.

Has Benteke done enough so far? Comment below...