Don’t click on the video just yet. Look at the image for a second. Christian Benteke, yards clear of any defender, strolls into the heart of the penalty box with only the keeper to beat. It was right about at that frame when, watching it live, I thought to myself, He’s definitely about to miss this.
Benteke has had a shaky start to his Liverpool career. As soon as then-manager Brendan Rodgers bought him this summer for about £33 million, fans immediately scrutinized the move based on the size of the transfer fee and his questionable fit with Rodgers’s tactics.
The big Belgian was a veritable goal machine at Aston Villa, thriving under a direct attacking style that sought to maximize Benteke’s size, strength, aerial ability, and knack for drifting into the exact space the ball would squirt into before pounding it into the net. Was a talented but fairly limited lower-midtable poacher good enough to start for a club with Champions League aspirations? Would Benteke fit into a team that prioritized fluid positioning, brisk passing into feet, and one- and two-touch interplay to surgically slice open opposing defenses rather than bludgeon right through them? Rodgers promised Benteke was a more complete player than he was asked to show at Villa, but fans remained skeptical—and not unreasonably.
While the stats support his former manager’s faith in Benteke’s full complement of skills (he’s scored six times in 16 appearances, or right around half a goal every 90 minutes), he hasn’t quite validated himself to everyone yet. His new boss, Jürgen Klopp, has called him out publicly, demanding that he contribute more to the team’s overall game if he wants to solidify his place as the unquestioned starter.
You can tell Benteke feels the heat. Today’s blown opportunity, coming off an even easier miss in almost the exact same circumstances this weekend, is a good example. Whether its the pressure or something else, Benteke rarely looks confident. The easier the chance is, the more certain it is that he’ll somehow bungle it at the last moment. You can tell from his response how desperately he wants to quell the doubts and prove he has what it takes to make it at this level by scoring as much as possible. Benteke hasn’t exactly reached the realm of ineptitude where Fernando Torres resides, but his penchant for failing in comically simple situations isn’t too far afield.
Still, everything should be taken in perspective. Benteke’s miss, like the one this weekend, would have sealed Liverpool’s victory in a match in which he had already put them ahead with an earlier goal. With more time to learn and grow with his teammates and new manager, there’s a good chance for him to improve on some already pretty respectable performances. Hopefully goals like the two he scored in his past two matches buoy his confidence so that next time he find himself in a must-score situation, he does.