Benteke v Liverpool - How Villa used his presence to exploit a Reds weakness

Christian Benteke scored his second goal in two games as he returns to form, but it wasn't just his goal that helped his side grab a point from Anfield.

There were two things that were a big factor in Liverpool’s poor first half display during their 2-2 draw at home to Aston Villa.

Much has been said about Steven Gerrard being completely outplayed in the defensive midfield role as Villa raced into a 2-0 lead, but one thing Liverpool have looked frail at throughout Brendan Rodgers’ reign is the way in which they dealt with a physical threat.

Christian Benteke seems to have got his confidence back after finding the net against Arsenal, and the Reds seem to be troubled by Benteke as he added another to what seems to be a growing collection of goals against Liverpool - having scored four against them during his time in the Premier League.

If we look at when the sides met earlier on in the season, the big Belgian strike was pretty well contained by Liverpool as the Reds left Villa Park with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Daniel Sturridge goal. If we look at the aerial battle involving Benteke, there were 13 aerial challenges, and he won less than half.

PlayerTeamPosAerial WonAppsMins
Christian Benteke Aston Villa FW 5 1 90
PlayerTeamPosAerial LostAppsMins
Christian Benteke Aston Villa FW 8 1 90

As you can see from the statistics above it is fair to say that Benteke didn't have it all his own way at Villa Park. Winning less than half of aerial contests was perhaps one of the reasons Liverpool looked reasonably solid on that day, even if Villa did have a lot of the play in the game.

But below are the statistics that show Christian Benteke enjoyed the aerial battle a lot more as he was put up against Glen Johnson with Martin Skrtel inside, rather than in the first game, Kolo Toure was the man just inside Johnson.

PlayerTeamPosAerial WonAppsMins
Christian Benteke Aston Villa FW 15 1 90
PlayerTeamPosAerial LostAppsMins
Christian Benteke Aston Villa FW 5 1 90

Instead of winning last than half of his aerial battles, Benteke this time around won 75% of those contests as Liverpool's fragile defence struggled to deal with the combination of his power and pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann.

Johnson will have had to deal with a lot of Benteke on Saturday with the Belgian dropping into the left channel and coming up against Glen Johnson. Johnson lost four aerial contests at Villa Park - and only won one on that day. 

PlayerTeamPosAerial LostAppsMins
Glen Johnson Liverpool DF 6 1 90

Johnson only won the one battle at Anfield, and quite clearly struggled. Paul Lambert deserves praise for his shrewd tactics by targeting the England right-back who has been out of form for a while, and acknowledged that the right side of Liverpool's defence was fairly light in times of a physical approach - with Kolo Toure playing on the left side rather than the right.

Even if Johnson's form has taken a turn for the worse, Paul Lambert spotted a flaw in the Liverpool defence. Though Benteke is no stranger to being a danger in the left channel, by exploiting his aerial ability certainly helped Villa's cause.

It is also a sign that Benteke is returning to his best and that Liverpool's defence still has a lot of work to do when it comes to dealing with the more physical and powerful strikers.

image: © little-pete

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