Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has sung the praises of Christian Benteke as the striker nears his return to first-team action, but urges fans not to expect too much too soon.
The Belgian international has been sidelined since April due to a ruptured Achilles tendon but could make the bench for next Saturday’s home clash against Manchester City after resuming full training earlier this month.
Villa have recorded just nine shots on target so far this Premier League season but, despite Benteke’s noted finishing qualities, Lambert remains cautious about rushing his star man back.
‘He is not too far away,’ he told the Birmingham Mail. ‘He has been training for a couple of weeks and thankfully there has been no reaction.
‘Everyone in the team will be grateful when he is back and what he hands us is an attacking force.
‘I will see how he does this week. You have to remember he has been out for five months.’
With Czech front man Libor Kozak also in the midst of recovering from a broken leg, Villa have been forced to use Gabby Agbonlahor as their main man up top, with the 27-year-old responding with two goals in six games.
Lambert has been impressed with how the long-time stalwart has performed thus far, but admits that Benteke’s imminent return will provide the lineup with a much-needed scoring boost.
‘It’s hard as everyone knows how crucial Christian and Libor were before their injuries,’ he said.
‘I think Gabby is playing really well and is a threat with his speed. Hopefully one or two of them will be back very soon.
‘I’ll see how Christian does this week – he’s been back with us for a fortnight now.
‘He’s been with the fitness lads for a few weeks.
‘If he’s there or thereabouts I’ll decide. I’ll have that dialogue with him and see how he feels.
‘First and foremost, I don’t think there’s any pressure on him. You don’t heap pressure on somebody with that injury.’
Lambert featured alongside some big-name goalscorers during his career at Borussia Dortmund and Celtic, including Karl-Heinz Reidle, Stephane Chapuisat and Henrik Larsson, but the former Champions League-winning midfielder believes Benteke to be one of the best number nines he’s ever seen in action.
‘He’s one of the best No.9s I’ve seen – even as a player,’ he added. ‘And I played with no slouches – three of the best strikers in the world at one time. He’s certainly up there and a lot younger than the lads I played with.
‘If Christian can have the career that those guys had he’ll be doing well for himself. He’s only 23 and has got a long way to go. He’s got a chance if he keeps at it.’