New Crystal Palace System Has Brought the Best Out of Christian Benteke

Earlier this month Christian Benteke turned 30. The Belgian is firmly approaching the twilight of his career but has had a few seasons to forget in recent years.

The striker thrived in his first term at Crystal Palace, netting 15 league goals, but only managed a further six in the next three campaigns.

There's been constant chatter of a move away from the Eagles, but he's enjoyed a mini revival in recent weeks. Benteke has scored three goals in his last three games - a double against West Brom in a 5-1 win and the opener in the 1-1 draw against West Ham on Wednesday evening.

If nothing else, Benteke is a striker who needs the system to suit him for a side to get the best out of him, and it appears manager Roy Hodgson has worked out a set of tactics designed to coerce better performances out of his attackers, with particular attention being paid to the big Belgian.

With a preferred front four quickly taking shape, made up of the speedy and dynamic Jeffrey Schlupp, Eberechi Eze, Wilfried Zaha and Benteke, Palace have enjoyed an upturn in form of late.

Two lacklustre defeats to Burnley and Newcastle inspired a change of approach from Hodgson, and they have reaped the rewards since.

A 5-1 win, admittedly aided hugely by West Brom's Matheus Pereira seeing red, saw Benteke score two during his first Premier League start of the season, sending a clear message to his manager that he should be starting more frequently.

He was rewarded with consecutive starts against both Tottenham and West Ham, scoring against the latter. However, his performance in midweek was tarnished with a sending off for two bookings. Hodgson must enjoy having the new-look, old school Benteke in his side and came out to rigorously defend his player, branding the dismissal 'ludicrous'.

Three goals has got many Palace fans wondering whether the Benteke of old is back within their ranks.

But the Benteke of old was some player. Purchased by Aston Villa in the summer of 2012 for a reported £7m, the then 21-year-old enjoyed a stellar first season, finishing fourth in the Premier League's goalscoring charts with a mightily impressive tally of 19.

He followed his debut season up by scoring ten and 13 goals in the next two terms before his big money move to Liverpool, which didn't go as planned.

Perhaps Hodgson has trawled into the archives and watched vintage Benteke. His 19 goal haul was one in which manager Paul Lambert adopted a four-man attack, not dissimilar to Hodgson's new approach. Consisting of Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Charles N'Zogbia, Villa's attackers mustered up 37 goals and 19 assists between them.

'Keep 'em coming Christian' | STEPHEN POND/Getty Images

For a team that came 15th, that's a considerable output. In the following seasons, Benteke never bettered his first term's tally, but performed impressively nonetheless, especially considering Villa gradually worsened.

The playing style of the attacking quartet at Villa Park certainly holds similarities with Hodgson's recreation. Quick wingers offer support for Benteke in the form of Eze and Schlupp or Andros Townsend, just like Weimann and N'Zogbia, with Benteke's ability to bring players into the game still a key attribute of his game.

Palace's ability to play more expansive football has undoubtedly coincided with Eze's arrival, who is forever looking a bargain for £17m in the current market. With defenders preoccupied with Benteke's hold up play, it gives wingers Eze and Schlupp space to exploit.

Zaha has also benefitted from the switch, with seven goals already this season, but then again he normally manages to impress whatever the system. The system allows multiple attackers to benefit, something that has not always been the case at Selhurst Park.

Since Benteke's debut season at Palace, where he scored 15, Palace have seen only two players net ten goals or more in a season. Luka Milivojevic, who's heavily reliant on penalties, and Zaha, which was just once.

It's early days, but with the new found riskier, more attacking style, all attackers at Palace could benefit. Zaha is easily on track for his best ever season and if Benteke can help ease the Ivorian's usual goalscoring burden, his twilight period may be his best yet.

Source : 90min