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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Less touches, fewer passes… but more dangerous: The rebirth of Christian Benteke

It is a measure of Christian Benteke’s ongoing value to Crystal Palace that, in a summer of remarkable upheaval in south London, one of the club’s first acts was to provide the striker with a new deal. Benteke’s two-year contract was sorted more than a month before Palace had found a manager, and with more than an entire team’s worth of players also looking to resolve uncertain futures.

Not so long ago, such a demonstration of faith in Benteke would have been treated with derisory sneers from the wider footballing world, and indeed from many of the Palace supporters. At the very least, few of those fans would have regarded his contractual situation as a priority for a club in the midst of one of the most dramatic rebuilds in Premier League history.

This, after all, was a player who had notched just six goals in 71 league appearances from 2017 to 2020, and a striker who had been largely written off as a goalscoring force. To some of the more cruel observers who lurk in the shadows of social media, Benteke had become little more than a punchline to their jokes.

And yet, if Benteke was not so averse to showing his emotions on a football pitch, he would be the one smiling now. The steely demeanour can only mask so much, and there can be no doubt that the Belgian is enjoying himself this season as he continues one of the more unlikely resurgences of recent years. His two goals against Burnley last weekend took him to five strikes in his last six matches for club and country, and brought him to 11 league goals since the end of February.

As he prepares to face former club Aston Villa, Benteke therefore does so as one of the league’s in-form centre-forwards. He may not be the player he was in those exhilarating, defence-obliterating days at Villa, where he struck 49 goals in 101 games, but he is showing he can still be effective and threatening as he enters what could be a third chapter of his Premier League career.

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