In Focus: Benteke rediscovers goalden touch at Palace
Christian Benteke has found his scoring boots at Crystal Palace.
Spearheading the attack for Patrick Vieira’s new-look Eagles, the Belgian has four goals in his past five Premier League games.
How has Benteke rediscovered the golden touch again at 30? LiveScore takes a look at the striker's rebirth.
A week before the season, Vieira hailed Benteke and what he could bring to the Palace side.
The big Belgian had his new boss purring after a goal in a pre-season clash with Watford.
Vieira said: "It is a plus to have Christian in our team because in the air he is one of the best if not the best in the league.
"This is a powerful weapon to have in the squad. We have to use it well and I was really pleased with him scoring the goal."
Slow out the blocks
That did not translate into early-season form.
Palace endured a mixed start and barring an assist in the 2-2 draw at West Ham, there were no goal involvements from Benteke.
The Eagles’ first victory under Vieira came as they thrashed Tottenham 3-0 in September.
It was a momentous day at Selhurst Park and one that looked like signalling a new era as Odsonne Edouard, a deadline-day signing from Celtic, netted twice after coming off the bench to replace Benteke.
After keeping his spot in a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, Benteke found himself on the bench for the draws with Brighton and Leicester.
A welcome break
Left out of Belgium’s squad for the Nations League finals in Italy, Benteke had two weeks to work at Palace’s training ground.
And Vieira believes that break has led to his improved form for the Eagles, which began with a strike in the 2-2 draw against Arsenal immediately following the international fixtures.
At the end of October, he said: "Christian has been a really good professional.
"Obviously, I still have a lot to learn from the players and sometimes the best way to learn from the players is when they are in a difficult period.
"I think the fact that he didn’t go to the international [team] allowed him to have a full week of hard training sessions, and that allowed him to perform against Arsenal.
"I was really pleased because when he wasn’t playing he didn’t feel sorry for himself, he just pulled his sleeves up and worked even harder."
The goal rush
That performance against Arsenal was reminiscent of the Benteke who first broke through at Aston Villa.
He moved past centre-back Gabriel like he was not there before firing the ball into the bottom corner for his first league goal of the campaign.
Benteke followed that up by bullying Newcastle’s defence and notching Palace’s opener with his head in a 1-1 draw.
But what made others stand up and take notice of his resurgence was the double at Burnley last weekend.
The first saw his deflected shot fly in off the post after he adjusted his feet quickly before his confidence was there for all to see as he firmly placed his second beyond Nick Pope.
Vieira’s Palace are playing a more attacking brand of football and with Wilfried Zaha joined by the likes of Conor Gallagher and Michael Olise, there will be more chances for Benteke — something he knows.
In August, he said: "I think [Vieira] wants us to go forward, to play higher up the pitch, he wants us to try and get the ball back high as well, and he wants us to create chances.
"I would say that in terms of what we have to do without the ball, being a No9 has changed.
"With Roy [Hodgson], it was important to have a good, strong shape, and there were some games where you didn't create as many chances as you'd want."
Room for improvement
Though he struggled at the beginning of the campaign, only Mohamad Salah (16) has scored more away goals than Benteke (10) since the start of last December.
He has four goals this year at a rate of 0.47 per 90 minutes — a better record than the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Raul Jimenez.
His aerial prowess has also been evident with Ivan Toney the only striker to have won more aerial duels than Benteke — the Bees forward has played 310 more minutes.
But it has not all been plain sailing with his six big chances missed the most of anyone in the top flight.
Only eight of his 26 shots have been on target which suggests the lack of a clinical edge in front of goal is still an issue.
With that said, the fact only Diogo Jota and Michail Antonio (both nine) have had more big chances than Benteke has to be taken as a positive.
If he can continue to keep Edouard and Jean-Phillippe Mateta out of the side, Palace will create chances for him.
And the Belgian will undoubtedly have his eye on beating the 15 strikes he managed in his first season at Selhurst Park.