Premier League Career: Aston Villa (2012-2015), Liverpool FC (2015-2016), Crystal Palace (2016-PRESENT)
Belgian Christian Benteke had endured a Premier League career of two halves. The powerful forward was a prolific threat and goalscorer during his three seasons at Villa Park. His goalscoring instincts often were enough to keep Aston Villa away from relegation danger. A £32.5 million transfer to Liverpool FC followed in 2015 but his single season on Merseyside was far from impressive. Jurgen Klopp discarded him and Benteke has ended up at Crystal Palace, where the goals have noticeably dried up in recent seasons.
Born in 1990 in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Benteke and his family immigrated to the city of Liege in Belgium three years later due to the regime in his birthplace country. Christian began his professional career in 2007 at KRC Genk. He also had one year at Standard Liege, plus loan campaigns with fellow Belgian sides KV Kortrijk and KV Mechelen. There was potential and Benteke was part of the Standard squad that won the Belgian league championship in 2009. His contribution was fleeting – just three goals in 12 matches but more than enough to earn a championship winners’ medal.
His breakthrough period in Belgium came in his second spell with KRC Genk. In 20 starts during the 2011-2012 season, Benteke managed to contribute nine assists and scored 16 goals. Genk were the reigning champions but had a disappointing defence, slipping to fifth spot. However, Christian was now among the leading forwards in the league and at the start of the 2012-2013 campaign, he scored his first international goal for his country in a 4-2 friendly victory over near-neighbours Netherlands.
Benteke’s performances at Genk captured the attention of Paul Lambert, who was attempting to bring in some fresh injection into an Aston Villa side he’d taken control of that summer from Alex McLeish. A fee of £7 million was agreed on August transfer deadline day and Benteke was ready to make his mark on the Premier League.
He made an immediate impression, scoring on his debut as a substitute against Swansea City. Lambert went on to say that Benteke was “unplayable” when he came on and there were times where he looked like that in the campaign. He would go on to become the first Villa player since Juan Pablo Angel in 2003-2004 to score 20 goals in all competitions. There were plenty of personal highlights for the forward. He scored four goals on Merseyside (2 apiece against Liverpool FC and Everton). Benteke also scored the club’s 1000th Premier League goal with a deflected winner away at Reading in March and a month later, struck a devastating hat-trick in a 6-1 thumping of fellow strugglers Sunderland.
A minor blemish was a red card in the club’s final home match of the season against Chelsea but his 19 goals were more than enough to keep Aston Villa in the top-flight. That also surpassed Dwight Yorke’s tally of 18 goals in 1995-1996 to score the most goals for any Villa player in any Premier League campaign previously.
The 2013-2014 campaign was a more frustrating outcome for the player. He did achieve double figures again in the Premier League but injury would play a cruel part in Benteke’s development. The season began with the forward actually submitting a transfer request which was withdrawn after discussions about the club’s direction with the manager. The response was to score twice in a dominating display as Aston Villa shocked Arsenal to win 3-1 at The Emirates on the opening weekend of the campaign.
A 12-game goalless streak did follow along with a month on the sidelines with a hip problem but Christian rediscovered his goalscoring predatory instincts in January, netting in a draw at Liverpool FC and converting a penalty to win a seven-goal thriller with West Bromwich Albion. There were two further strikes in a 4-1 dismissal of Norwich City in early March. Three weeks later though, his season was over. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in training, which ruled him out of action for six months. This also meant Benteke would miss representing his country at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, with Divock Origi taking his place in the squad instead.
The injury meant a delayed start for the forward to his 2014-2015 campaign and on his return, his first contribution was a red card. In a home match with Tottenham, his team were 1-0 up when an altercation with Ryan Mason saw Benteke given a straight red card by Neil Swarbrick. Tottenham went on to win the game against the 10-men 2-1. Just two goals came for Benteke before March 2015. By this point, Lambert had been sacked and replaced by Tim Sherwood, who got the absolute maximum out of the player.
Benteke’s rich vein of form began with a stoppage-time penalty to defeat Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion and earn Sherwood his first win in his second game in-charge of the Villans. In the next matches, Christian scored 11 goals in all competitions. They included a well-placed header to beat Spurs at White Hart Lane and a second Premier League hat-trick to salvage a 3-3 home draw with Queens Park Rangers. Had it not been for his return to form, it is very likely the club would have been relegated as they finished the campaign in 17th place. The run of goals also saw Benteke overpower Liverpool FC in the FA Cup semi-finals, scoring one and setting up the second for Fabian Delph to ensure Villa reached the final. It ended though in a disappointing 4-0 defeat to Arsenal.
After scoring 42 Premier League goals for Aston Villa, Benteke did move on in the summer of 2015 to Liverpool FC after they triggered a £32.5 million release clause fee in his contract. It was seen by many as a final throw of the dice for under-fire manager Brendan Rodgers. Benteke though seemed to guarantee goals and LFC supporters were keen for their new forward to do well. He scored on his home debut against AFC Bournemouth and produced a cracking overhead kick in a losing cause at Manchester United. In October though, Rodgers was dismissed and replaced by Jurgen Klopp. Benteke didn’t fit into Klopp’s style of play and often became an impact substitute – much to the player’s frustration. There were still notable goals in wins over outgoing champions Chelsea and champions-elect Leicester City. However, nine goals in 29 Premier League matches was a disappointing return for all concerned.
Fearing his career at Anfield was sinking towards oblivion, Benteke moved on after just one season, with Crystal Palace virtually paying the fee Liverpool had for him a year earlier. Benteke’s move in August 2016 easily eclipsed the Eagles’ previous transfer record. His first campaign at Selhurst Park was successful. Christian netted 15 times in the Premier League and 17 in all competitions. The high point of a decent season was two goals on his first return to Anfield in an excellent 2-1 away victory for Palace. As of January 2020, it remains Liverpool FC’s last home defeat in the Premier League.
Since then, the goalscoring touch seems to have deserted him. Just three league goals in 2017-2018 was to personal cost for Benteke. He was left out of Belgium manager Roberto Martinez’s final 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup finals, meaning he is in big danger of not featuring in any World Cup tournament. In 2018-2019, he netted just once although it came in a 3-2 away win at Arsenal and 2019-2020 has been a goalless campaign so far. Nevertheless, he signed a contract extension in October 2019 and is still considered an important player for Palace manager Roy Hodgson, though largely now as an impact player off the bench.
Just four goals in his last 61 Premier League appearances is a dismal return for a forward who once used to give Premier League defenders the runaround. However, Christian Benteke has shown previously from his time at Aston Villa that if he gets into a rich vein of form, finding the back of the net is not much of a problem for him.