How Christian Benteke has changed Liverpool in just two games
At his most frustrated last season, Brendan Rodgers was asked what his Liverpool side were lacking. “Someone to put the ball in the net,” he said, with greater sharpness than any of his strikers had managed for most of the season. Then he walked off.
It was an abrasive response from a usually affable manager, an indication that for all the analysis of his tactics, personality, man-management and coaching methods, Liverpool’s failure to finish in the top four boiled down to a single fact. They were hopeless up front, with no one to transform shabby performances into scruffy wins.
Two games into this campaign, Liverpool are winning ugly but that beats losing and drawing uglier as they did too often a few months ago.
While stubbornness in the back four undoubtedly made a difference – take a bow Nathaniel Clyne – the man signed for £32.5 million delivered what Rodger knew was missing.
To put it into perspective Christian Benteke has now equalled Mario Balotelli’s Premier League goal record for Liverpool. John W Henry, on Merseyside to monitor progress on and off the pitch in the shadow of the emerging £100 million Main Stand, will know he has not signed the next Luis Suárez, but he has not squandered cash on another dud.
Rodgers believes Benteke will add more than just goals, remarking how the Belgian’s physical presence is making Liverpool a more robust unit than before.
Benteke's heat map last night:
“I thought Christian was a real handful. His hold-up play is outstanding,” said Rodgers.
“He has a wonderful touch for a big guy and can control the game. There was one moment when the ball came into the box and because of his strength and power he got a touch, it dropped and Coutinho got away a shot.
“I’ve not had another who could do that up front in the three years I’ve been here. It is one reason we brought him in. Once the players get used to that and see it will give us more opportunities. That will come and grow over the coming months.”
Knock-downs in the penalty area? It sounds like the Liverpool manager has been to Damascus during the summer break, the total football of three years ago giving ground to a desire to impose physicality rather than tiki-taka.
Liverpool and Rodgers will be all the better for showing a different face, as long as the style has not been abandoned entirely. Rodgers suggested it was fitness rather than design that accounted for the broader lack of creativity.
This was more like the Liverpool of the more successful Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benítez era, stubborn rather than charming.
Liverpool look better for being tougher to beat. Unlike a year ago, they have goalscorer to hide their blemishes.