Have we seen the last of Christian Benteke in the Premier League?

Have we seen the last of Christian Benteke in the Premier League?

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Once a player who carried so much threat in the Premier League, with just three goals in his previous 42 appearances for Palace have we now seen the end of Christian Benteke in the top-flight?

After joining Aston Villa from Genk back in 2012 for £7million, Christian Benteke took the Premier League by storm in his first season in England. The 27-year-old, who has been capped 34 times for Belgium, netted 19 goals in 34 games during his debut season in the top-flight. Soon after, Benteke earned credidation throughout Europe as one of the hottest young prospects in the game.

The domineering front man, who stands at 6ft 3 was a force to be reckoned with – he toyed with defenders for fun and had teams struggling to find ways of coping with his physical presence. At just 21 years of age, Benteke had the whole league talking about his potential at the top level, with some of Europe’s elite keen to acquire his services for the forthcoming 2013/14 campaign.

Aston Villa’s prized possession, £7million was now looking like the bargain of the century. Benteke’s efforts throughout his opening season in the Premier League saw him nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award, however he narrowly missed out on that thanks to the sizzling form of then Spurs wide man Gareth Bale.

The ‘next big thing’ at Villa

Following on from his outstanding debut season was always going to be difficult for the Belgian, speculation surrounding his future at the West Midland club followed him wherever he went and in July of 2013 he handed in a transfer request. Villa said they would only sell if their valuation of Benteke was matched, however just two weeks later he withdrew his request and signed an improved four-year contract at Villa Park.

During his second season at Villa, Benteke impressed once again; he bagged 10 goals in 26 starts, helping Villa to avoid relegation to the Championship. A ruptured achilles put an end to his season in April of 2014 though, in turn forcing him out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

After missing the opening three months of the 2014/15 campaign through injury, Benteke seemingly picked up where he left off by scoring 13 goals in 29 starts for Aston Villa in what would be his final season in the West Midlands. After three eye-catching seasons for the Villains, Benteke was bought by Liverpool after the Reds triggered his £32.5million release clause, which at the time was their second most expensive transfer ever.

The Belgian’s arrival at Liverpool was greeted with much excitement; he was tipped for big things at Anfield and under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp, who arrived at the club just three months after Benteke, fans of the club were tumultuous to see how he’d get on at Anfield. After an injury-ridden first spell in the North West, Benteke often found himself on the bench as he did not fit into Klopp’s slick, dynamic style of attacking play. This led to the Belgian leaving Liverpool having scored just 10 goals in 42 appearances.

Crystal Palace – the revival?

Trading the North West of England for the South East of London, Benteke joined Crystal Palace at the start of the 2016/17 campaign on a four-year deal for £27million. This was to be his way back into the game after a forgetful time at Liverpool, where he was unfortunate to be frozen out by a manager who simply couldn’t fit him into his game plan, returning to regular first team football was the main objective for the towering Belgian.

Playing in a side full of blistering pace, players like Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie supplied Benteke with the service he required in the area, which helped him to achieve 15 goals in 36 appearances throughout his opening campaign at Selhurst Park. Benteke was back, his confidence high and perhaps his level now clarified.

Ending the season on such a respectable goals total, most people were expecting big things from Benteke last term. Playing regularly in a side that was perfectly tailored to his game, it was time to really kick on and start repaying the hefty price tag that had followed him to his new club. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen for him – a disappointing campaign which saw Benteke end the season with just three goals to his name in 31 appearances seems to have taken his toll on the once so prolific target man. He’s now a player completely bereft of confidence, the chances he used to finish with ease are now becoming squandered and it’s clear to see in his body language on the pitch.

On Saturday for instance against Southampton, Benteke was gifted with two or three gilt-edged opportunities to firstly put his side ahead, and then after they conceded to draw them level at Selhurst Park. Perhaps the clearest chance of them all was when the giant striker headed his meek effort into the body of Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy; all he had to do was direct his effort slightly to the side of the former Palace stopper and it would have gone in. In years gone by, even at Liverpool where he failed to make any real impact you would have put your mortgage on Benteke finishing those sort of chances, but his confidence is so low at the moment that he simply does not believe in his ability in front of goal.

Make or break for Benteke as he enters his peak

At 27 years of age, Benteke should be entering his prime. The Belgian international has an unquestionable abundance of quality and has proven himself in the Premier League whilst at Villa and in his first spell at Palace. The key now is whether he can pick himself back up and regain the confidence he so desperately requires to get himself back to his best.

Time is running out though, Roy Hodgson won’t keep entrusting Benteke to lead the line in a team who are desperate for goals to remain in the Premier League this term. Alexander Sørloth could line-up instead of him for Palace’s first game back against Huddersfield after the international break, while Wilfried Zaha could also be called upon to play in a more central role for the Eagles should Benteke keep underperforming.

So often we have seen the demise of players who once made such an impact in the Premier League lead to moves abroad to Europe’s second-rate leagues, and it’d be a huge shame for Benteke to become one of those easily-forgettable players. It would be harsh to talk about Benteke in the same breath as the likes of Roque Santa-Cruz and Michu, who were complete one season wonders, however if he performs to the same standard as he did last season this time out, Benteke’s time in England will almost certainly be over.

A surprise re-call to the Belgium squad this week for their game against Scotland on Friday could reignite his spark and provide him with the boost he so desperately requires, but it remains to be seen whether or not we have now seen the best Benteke has to offer in the English top-flight.

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