The Merseyside derby was one that a Liverpool fan dreams of. The usual high intensity, close fixture was anything but that as Liverpool ran out comfortable winners.
Divock Origi had opened the scoring on the night with a header five minutes before half time. It was a typical derby game tackle, however, that ended his night and virtually his season.
Ramiro Funes Mori saw red for his horrifically timed tackle on the young Belgian but it was the sight of the 20-year-old leaving on a stretcher which had much bigger implications for Liverpool. Origi was on fire, scoring five goals in as many games and was competing with Daniel Sturridge for the main starting birth in Jürgen Klopp’s first choice eleven.
Origi out, Benteke back to second choice?
The injury news wasn’t good and Origi, who was set to be instrumental in Liverpool’s run at the Europa League, was left nursing possible ankle ligament damage that will almost certainly keep him out for the remainder of the season.
It added to the mounting injury problems at Liverpool with both Jordan Henderson and Emre Can sidelined, add in the overhanging suspension of centre-half Mamadou Sakho and the spine of the Liverpool team is in pieces.
One player who is on the other side of the injury curse is Christian Benteke, remember him? The Belgian has endured a difficult season in which he has struggled to assert himself in the Liverpool first team and has been subjected to a huge amount of criticism with his less than impactful campaign.
The £32.5million striker made his return to the Liverpool squad on Thursday with his inclusion being the first for just over a month. Klopp insisted he was looking forward to the return of Benteke but surprisingly came on ahead of Daniel Sturridge in Spain for the last five minutes as Liverpool lost 1-0 to Villarreal.
Can Benteke make a difference?
It’s a crucial stage of the season with the return leg now a make or break game as the Reds look to progress to the final which would be a second this season under Klopp. Sturridge is likely to feature in the home leg and with Klopp rotating heavily in the last couple of weeks then Benteke will be hoping he can start a few games in the league especially before the end of the season and begin to alter the current opinion of him.
Benteke has struggled to fit in under Klopp with the high press, intense style not being the big Belgian’s cup of tea and saw him replaced by Roberto Firmino who led the line whilst others were injured after Christmas.
Benteke’s finishing has also saw him come under intense scrutiny with his inability to score one-on-one's the standout flaw and this was a factor which saw him dropping further and further down the pecking order and therefore left his future at the club in huge doubt.
A last minute penalty against Crystal Palace, which he won and then coolly converted, was hoped to possibly be a turning point for the Belgian but injury put paid to that and the emerging form of Origi and a fully fit Sturridge meant even if he was fit then game time would have been a premium anyway.
With the injury to Origi and the return of Benteke it gives him what you feel is a final opportunity at proving that he is good enough to stay at the club next season and we won’t see him depart. All of the signs point to a departure in the summer despite the player appearing to want to stay and fight for his place.
What does Benteke need to do?
So what can he do? Well first thing would be to get a goal. The Belgian needs to end the season on some kind of goalscoring run. Criticism has stemmed from his apparent lack of work rate up top and
it will be one of the other things that will be looked at if he starts a game before the end of the season.
His aerial ability is a clear strength of his. We know how good he can be in the air yet he’s struggled to get on the end of many crosses this season by either not being in the box or making the opposite run to where the ball is going. James Milner’s crossing has improved dramatically since the beginning of 2016 and some of his back post deliveries are perfect for Benteke to get on the end of so the Belgian should be encouraged by that.
Many have thought that Benteke’s link up and hold up play has been very good this season, but he drops too deep at times meaning there is no presence in the box. He needs to be able to link the play but also push the defenders of the opposing team backwards.
But of course, the service up to him needs to be good as well. Long balls out from the back which means a 50/50 challenge with a centre half is not the way to go but also when he flicks the ball on, players need to be willing to run beyond him, something that hasn’t happened enough when Benteke’s been in the team.
In all likelihood Benteke is going to leave in the summer regardless of what he does in the next few weeks. The feeling is that Klopp has made his mind up already but Benteke will be hoping that he can produce something before the end of the campaign that gives him a chance to fight for his future and he himself will want to help Liverpool collect as many points in the league and possibly lift a cup before the seasons out.
You never know. There’s a Europa League semi-final which may need a hero from the subs bench on Thursday...
That’s one way to go about changing opinion.