Striker Christian Benteke may currently be a bit-part player for Liverpool but manager Jurgen Klopp believes he has seen a change for the good in the Belgium international.
The £32.5million summer signing is third-choice behind Daniel Sturridge and compatriot Divock Origi and the 20-minute substitute appearance he got against Manchester City in midweek – when the match was already won – was his first action in four games.
Benteke has not started a Premier League match since December 30 – the date of his last goal – and he has now been caught as the club’s top scorer this season by Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and James Milner.
The fact the big striker was leading the way on just seven goals tells you all you need to know about his first season at Anfield, in which he has struggled to get to grips with Klopp’s concepts and at times has looked like a man who does not know where or when to run when actually on the pitch.
However, when he came off the bench on Wednesday Klopp said he noticed an improvement in the striker’s game, although whether that will be enough to save him from the player cull which is surely coming at the end of the season remains in doubt. This week he has been bizarrely linked with Arsenal.
“If you saw him in the last game he came on and was completely different to the games he had before,” said the Reds boss ahead of Sunday’s trip to Crystal Palace.
“The problem is in a club like Liverpool with the strikers we have – (Daniel) Sturridge, Benteke, (Divock) Origi, (Danny) Ings – injured but here – and (Roberto) Firmino – you have not too much time to show what you are able to so you need to use the time you have got.
“Christian was not in the best moment in this situation and Sturridge and Divock came back and now they are little bit ahead but when I saw Christian coming on in the last game he played really good.
“I am not worried.”
Even when primary striker Sturridge was rested against City it was Origi who was handed the role of spearhead.
The 20-year-old is still raw but his running in behind the defence and his willingness to press opponents from the front gave Liverpool an impetus going forward they did not get from Benteke.
Like his compatriot, Klopp said the youngster had benefited from time out of the game when he was sidelined with a hamstring injury sustained on Boxing Day.
“Divock can improve every part of his game,” he said.
“He is smart enough to go behind the line, use his speed and is technically good enough to play with us and be an option and that is a really good situation.
“It was not he played the most self-confident football in the world so he started with too much dribbling and wanted to show in one situation all skills he has and that was not too clever.
“I have seen this a lot of time, especially with young players, so we talked to him and gave him a bit of rest to cool down and told him he didn’t have to change the world in one day.
“We told him what he has to improve and everyone saw before his last injury he made really great steps.
“During his last injury he used the time and now he has more muscle which is important, especially as a striker in England as all the centre-halves are very physical.”
Sturridge will return to the team on Sunday so both Origi and Benteke will have to settle for a place on the bench.