Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson has been admirably loyal to striker Christian Benteke over the last year or so, continuing to select him at the head of the side despite a severe lack of form but following the Eagles’ 2-0 home defeat against Southampton, the gaffer hinted that the Belgian would be taken out of the side if we had any comparable alternatives available.
With Connor Wickham still struggling to recover from the long-term injuries which have haunted him for close to two years, the coaching staff are felt with 22-year-old Norwegian striker Alexander Sørloth as their only other striking option; a player who is still learning and adapting to the pace of the Premier League after a meteoric rise from relative obscurity just a year or two ago.
Admittedly, Alex scored the winner against Swansea when given a start in the EFL Cup last Tuesday but I think we can all agree that his general play hinted at him not being quite ready to lead the line in the Premier League from week to week. His supporters will rightly point out that he was the difference between the two sides at The Liberty Stadium, taking his chance well when turning and hitting a hard-struck shot across the keeper with his left foot but even so, I can understand why Hodgson retains some reservations about throwing him into the fire of the top flight.
From a fan’s perspective, I’ll admit to worrying about the lack of tactical variation we’d have at the top of the XI, even if all three of our out-and-out strikers were fit and raring to go. In Benteke, Sørloth and Wickham, Hodgson has the same style of front-man, limiting our opportunities to mix things up depending on the set-up of the opposition. Of course, we did see Zaha and Townsend utilised as makeshift strikers when injury forced the gaffer into shuffling the pack last term but you get the impression that this time around, he’s far more likely to keep the pair out wide as long as the likes of Benteke and Sørloth retain fitness.
It’s difficult to explain how we’ve arrived at a point where, six years after winning promotion to the Premier League, we don’t have a single striker on the books capable of scoring 10-15 goals a season. Obviously, Benteke managed 17 during his first campaign in red and blue but since May of 2017, the former Aston Villa hotshot has looked a shadow of his former self.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.