A quick glance at the statistics from Crystal Palace’s 0-0 draw with Everton on Saturday show that Christian Benteke won a mightily impressive nine aerial challenges over the course of 90 minutes; the best of anyone on the pitch by three (Dominic Calvert-Lewin managed six) and four more than Palace’s best performer Scott Dann, who managed five.
Throughout his three years on the books at Selhurst Park, the big Belgian has comfortably topped the “aerial challenges won” table week after week but with the spotlight shining on his goal tally, Roy Hodgson is still struggling to work out how to get his first-choice front-man firing on all cylinders. Play him up front alone and his flick-ons and lay-offs more often than not fail to find a teammate, play him with a partner, (Jordan Ayew was that man on Saturday) and you’ll find him acting as a provider rather than the one putting the finishing touches to attacking moves.
There was no lack of effort from Benteke last weekend, quite the opposite in fact. The 28-year-old threw himself into the game with real enthusiasm, twice winning the ball on the halfway line and looking to drive the team onward but with a grand total of zero shots at goal across his 83 minutes on the field, his path back to form is one which has still got fans and coaches scratching their heads.
One particular passage of play focused on by Ian Wright on Saturday night’s edition of Match of the Day saw Palace attacking the Holmesdale end midway through the second half, with Patrick van Aanholt in possession and looking to pick out a red and blue shirt in the crowded penalty area. Circled on the screen was Benteke, stood behind a gaggle of Everton defenders, hoping one assumes, that the Dutchman could somehow bypass them all and place a cross squarely on his head. Wright, quite rightly expressed frustration at the former Liverpool man failing to make a run and get in front of his man in the hope of sliding one home from close-range. It’s a striker’s instinct but all too often, that fire in the belly has been missing from the former Liverpool man’s approach in SE25.
If Palace and Benteke are to be truly successful this season, it’s something he and Hodgson will need to rectify but with the same patterns reappearing time and again; what is the solution?