Almost everything has gone right for Jürgen Klopp since he strolled into Anfield two months ago. The German has charmed the Liverpool faithful with his laid back, charismatic approach not to mention some outstanding results including big wins on the road at Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton.
However Sunday’s defeat at Newcastle only served to highlight the problem of quite how big money signing Christian Benteke fits into his Merseyside revolution.
The contrast between Liverpool’s performance in midweek at Southampton in the Capital One Cup and the defeat at St James’ Park were startling.
Despite falling behind in the opening minute against the Saints, Liverpool were brilliant. A fluid display full of life and energy saw the Reds cut through a strong Southampton side almost at will. Emre Can, playing in a more advanced midfield role was their creator-in-chief and delivered one of the passes of the season to set up the returning Daniel Sturridge for his second goal in the space of four minutes and one that gave Liverpool the lead.
Divock Origi put in his best performance in a Liverpool shirt, netting a hat-trick while Adam Lallana put in another energetic display against his former club as the visitors romped to a crushing 6-1 win.
However Klopp opted to ring the changes for the trip to Newcastle on Sunday in an attempt to bring in fresh legs but in doing so perhaps made his first major mistake as Liverpool boss. Out went the suspended Can while Sturridge, Origi and Lallana were all dropped to the bench with Christian Benteke coming in to the lead the line.
However little went right for the big Belgian or Liverpool over the 90 minutes in the North-East. Benteke, who is still fighting his way back to full fitness put in a static display up front and gone was the fluency in their play that we’d seen only four days earlier on the South Coast and had also been evident in several games during Benteke’s absence from the side.
Criticism harsh, but justified
While Benteke was the easy scapegoat for a poor showing and a 2-0 defeat, the criticism that has been thrown his way since the game has been to some extent justified. His performance only served to bring to the surface, a problem that has been brewing for a while perhaps even since the very day Benteke signed on the dotted line at Anfield. Just how does he fit into their style of play?
The departure of Brendan Rodgers and arrival of Klopp hasn’t really changed that much in that Liverpool will still look to get the ball on the ground and pass the ball, but perhaps the intensity of their play has increased and that is something that the Liverpool players seem to have thrived upon but doesn’t really suit Benteke’s game.
Given results have been strong over the past two months there is no reason why Klopp should adapt his team’s style just to fit Benteke back into the side. Therefore it is up to the Belgian to prove that he is willing to work hard and adapt his game to fit into this Liverpool team.
With Sturridge back and perhaps finally over his injury problems and the likes of Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi starting to find their feet at Anfield, there is stiff competition and Benteke has to improve if he is to keep his place in this side.
If he doesn’t then Klopp will be faced with a real dilemma. While he wasn’t the one who forked out in excess of £30million for the Aston Villa forward in the summer, whenever such large fees are involved there is still a certain pressure on the incumbent manager to give the player a chance to prove himself.
Future at Anfield in doubt?
However with Liverpool right in the hunt for a top four finish and a return to the Champions League, Klopp can’t afford to carry passengers and many more lackluster showings from the Belgian will bring his long-term Liverpool future into serious doubt.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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