Christian Benteke has found the start to this season a difficult one. Josh Esaw has taken a look at how an achilles injury he picked up at Aston Villa might have an impact even today.
Despite scoring 17 goals for the Eagles last season, Christian Benteke has found goals hard to come by this term. This dip in form seemingly was the catalyst for the Belgian taking leave of his senses and to the chagrin of pretty much everybody else in the stadium, taking a penalty off Luka Milivojević against Bournemouth, which he subsequently missed.
It seems from reports that the Palace dressing room, whose ire was obvious directly after the incident, have sorted this out amongst themselves and rallied to show great fighting spirit to nick a win against Watford on Tuesday night and a dazzling 3-0 demolition of Claude Puel’s resurgent Leicester.
It is no secret that Benteke is a confidence player, the striker noted to L’equipe when moving to Palace, that goals give him confidence and that whether you play well or not, people on remember whether you have scored or haven’t. Last weekend's performance at the King Power highlighted how a goal invigorates his entire game.
The weight of his price tag however had been hanging on the striker in the minds of some Palace fans and a great number are still slightly sceptical. During the run of poor form in front of goal, there have been cries from supporters questioning his work ethic, some even questioning his ability.
It seems unquestionable, simply based on his goal scoring recording at the highest level of football, that Christian Benteke is a top quality striker. His record in the premier league of 65 goals in 167 games, a record of 1 goal every 2.59 games is no fluke and his average for Belgium is roughly equivalent. Statistics suggest if Crystal Palace fans are patient and supportive, they will see that form.
It does seem fair though, to highlight that Benteke has looked more muted for Palace than previous clubs. The explosiveness, instinctive goals and fearsome powerful and dynamic movement of his days at Aston Villa, where he looked to become one of the best strikers in Europe, hasn’t been as readily present.
Many will argue that the Benteke at Aston Villa looked sharper, more mobile and even seemed to strike the ball with a different technique. So could this be more than a dip in form?
It is important to remember the achilles tendon rupture suffered by Benteke in training for Aston Villa in 2014.
In years gone by Achilles tendon ruptures would be career enders. The achilles, the largest and strongest tendon in the body, connects the calf muscle and the heel bone. The Aston Villa players at the time said they could hear the pop as the tendon ruptured, highlighting the severity of the tear and Benteke was ruled out for a number of months after undergoing surgery. Despite the seriousness of the injury, Benteke rehabbed well and returned ahead of schedule for Aston Villa.
Due to the nature of an achilles injury, a lot of information available online suggests that a number of areas of a players game can be permanently effected even post rehab. In an interview with the Birmingham Mail in 2014, Ben Dinnery suggested that the injury was unusual for a player so young and could affect a number of areas of his game, specifically his pace, shooting power and general explosion. Dinnery also recommended that it would not be advisable for Benteke not to return to action any earlier than 6 months after the injury as to give the tendon enough time to regenerate properly.
Dinnery does infer however, that the tendon will grow back stronger and Benteke’s age should help negate the possible side effects of the injury long term.
Whilst we cannot know without a detailed medical knowledge, it is possible to suggest that in the process of recovery, Benteke seems to have modified his game somewhat since the injury. Whether that is a result of him wanting to return ahead of schedule for Villa, so modifying his playing style, to rely more on his undoubted aerial ability or whether the potential range of movement and power in his leg has in fact decreased cannot be known.
Playing for a team like Palace, where the striker, and especially a lone striker, is expected to do a great deal of closing down and defend from the front, is only going to highlight any mobility limitations a players body may have.
While the psyche of the English fan is to love a player who runs after every ball, if a player has suffered a very serious injury maybe that player then has to be aware of what is a lost cause as to not put pressure on his body.
Having scored the goals he did last season though, it doesn’t seem likely that when everything clicks, Benteke can’t score for fun at this level, in spite of past injuries.
Benteke looks to be playing himself into form and has looked brighter each game since returning from injury early in the season. Now with one finally going in and his increasing good work for the team, the goal rush might be about to begin.