They paid £35 million for Andy Carroll in January 2011, only to sell him two and a half years later, because he didn’t suit their playing style. So it seemed something of a surprise in July 2015, when Liverpool paid Aston Villa £32.5 million for the services of Christian Benteke, a player not that different to Carroll.
The first few months at Anfield have not been as plain sailing for Benteke, as injury, followed by a change of manager have appeared to affect both his performance and levels of confidence.
Ahead of the clash between his former and current club at Villa Park on Valentine’s Day, the SportsMatrix analytics team decided to examine the data to compare the Belgian’s first few months at Liverpool with his final season at Villa, to see if his role has changed playing for a team with different ambitions and with better quality players.
In three seasons at Villa Park, between 8% and 9% of Aston Villa’s attacking build-up play came from Benteke; but at Liverpool, his contribution has fallen to only 5%. Despite this reduction, the quality of his play if anything has improved.
Under Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool style demands plenty of hard running and pressing; a style that is not ideal for the less mobile players such as Benteke. But if he is to play as the team’s main striker, it is important not only that he adapts to this style, but for Liverpool to take advantage of his strengths.
When the ball is hit long, there are few players in the league as good at controlling the long ball as Benteke. In the first half of this season 47% of his actions when receiving long ball passes were rated as being good, an improvement on any of his previous seasons at Villa Park.
Benteke is averaging more chances and shots on goals per game (3.6) than during his final season at Villa Park (3.3); but when it comes to converting these chances into goals, this is where his performances have suffered, with fewer than 60% of his chances converted into goals, down from over 64% last season.
When it comes goal attempts there has also been a deterioration, with 24.5% of his shots and headers on-target, compared to more than 30% last season and whereas 1 in 4 of his shots last season was rated as being a dangerous shot, this season only 1 in 5 was rated as being dangerous.
It takes time for a player and a striker in particular to adapt to new surroundings, so when the confidence begins to suffer so do the performances, especially in front of goal.
Perhaps the question worth asking is whether Benteke himself is wondering whether he figures in Jürgen Klopp’s plans for the future at Anfield.