Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Can Christian Benteke save Aston Villa's season?

Christian Benteke's selection as Aston Villa's man of the match in defeat to Arsenal was more the result of a painful lack of alternatives than the good work of the enigmatic Belgian.
If Villa manager Paul Lambert wanted to clutch at any small mercies from another home defeat, the fact that Benteke ended a barren sequence with his first goal in 14 hours 45 minutes stretching back to 14 September was his best hope.
For more than an hour of Arsenal's 2-1 win - a result that took them back to the top of the Premier League and left Villa five points above the relegation zone - Benteke looked a lost soul as his touch deserted him and any sight of goal was swiftly snuffed out by the Gunners defence.
These are not the happiest times at Villa Park. When a prize for a half-time shoot-out was announced as season tickets, this supposedly glorious news was greeted with jeers from supporters who had already cleared their throats to aim derision at Lambert's players.
And the symbol of those struggles was Benteke, the same Benteke whose deeds had earned him hero status on Villa Park's Holte End last season.
Gone was the powerhouse who scored 23 goals in his debut campaign in England, the 23-year-old who was linked with £25m moves to Tottenham and Chelsea during a period of summer discontent.
In his place was the hesitant, peripheral figure who has struggled with injuries, loss of form and lack of service since opening the season with two goals in Villa's win at Arsenal and another in an unlucky loss at Chelsea.
Benteke's decline, so puzzling for a player of such obvious ability, was a far cry from the day in July when a transfer request was withdrawn as quickly as it was made and Villa supporters celebrated what they regarded as their best signing of the summer when he agreed a new four-year contract.