The Truth About Benteke and Crosses

Normally when Liverpool sign (or are heavily linked) to a player, I take a look at their stats from the previous season, to see what the numbers suggest the new boy might bring to the Reds in the coming campaign.

With Christian Benteke however, there is one major point of interest, thanks to this interview with his manager Tim Sherwood, which included the following:

Sherwood has also noted that Liverpool’s number of crosses this season – 409 – is the lowest in the top division. “We cross more balls into the box than any other club in the league and Christian has said that he feeds off crosses,” Sherwood said. “There’s no point going to a club where they don’t cross the ball.”

Despite the fact that Sherwood is obviously keen to hang on to the Belgian striker, and also that ‘Tactics Tim’ is a figure of fun for Liverpool fans for 99% of the time, Kopites (or at least those disinterested with the notion of signing Benteke for £32.5m) have taken his comments to heart; do a search for ‘Benteke crosses’ on Twitter, and you’ll find plenty of tweets along those lines from pundits and Liverpool fans alike:

You get the idea, and whilst it is true that Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool cross less often than every other team in the Premier League, a little dig deeper reveals some very interesting facts.

The first thing I wanted to discover was how important crosses are to Benteke’s scoring record. To measure this, I looked at how many of his assisted goals came via open play crosses, and how that compares to the rest of the Premier League. All of the stats quoted below are for league football since August 2012, which works out nicely as that period covers both the Brendan Rodgers era at Liverpool, and Benteke’s three years with Villa.

The Belgian striker has been assisted for twenty-eight league goals in his time with the Villans, and of those eight have been from crosses (though not including corners; we’ll cover those in a later section). This means that 29% of his strikes have required a ball in from wide areas.

In the Premier League over the same period, there have been 627 goals created via crosses, from a total of 2,042 net-bulgers that have been assisted; 31% in percentage terms, so a slightly higher proportion than Benteke.

If I had infinite time, I could see how the proportion of chances created from crosses to Benteke compares to league average, but it seems reasonable to say that the Belgian is no more reliant on crosses for goals than your average top flight team is at least.

He may also make more use of them than, say, Daniel Sturridge does (though in fairness the two players joint-topped the 2013/14 headed goal table, alongside Wilfried Bony), and Benteke is also in the top five in the league for receiving crosses, but there’s little to suggest he’s overly reliant on crosses to score goals in open play. People inevitably recall the most recent season most clearly, and as four of his nine assisted goals (44%) came from crosses that perhaps colours the collective thinking, but over a longer period the percentage is much lower.

But even if we assume that Benteke will require a high number of crosses to fully succeed at Liverpool (and as almost a quarter of his non-penalty goals have come that way, then it still seems a fairly reasonable assumption), how will he do this when the Reds cross less often than every other team?

Take a look at the following table, which shows how many chances Villa and Liverpool have created from crosses over the previous three seasons. It’s also to important to remember that Andy Carroll left at the start of this period too, so his presence isn’t felt in the below figures.

Villa LFC Cross ChancesThe Reds may not cross that often, but they appear equally as capable as Benteke’s Aston Villa at creating goalscoring opportunities from them. Crosses made up a higher proportion of Villa’s chances than they have done for Liverpool, but it certainly seems fair to say that Liverpool will create from crosses as often as Benteke is used to.

I noted in this piece on Nathaniel Clyne that he favours crossing as a creative strategy, and Benteke was assisted by Villa’s right back Bacuna four times last season (which was the joint-second best assist to goal scorer combination in the division), so perhaps this is a link up we might see in 2015/16.

I said we’d look at corners, so here we are: Christian Benteke has scored five of his twenty-eight assisted league goals (18%) via this method, which is a fair way above the league average of 8%, and he also converts set piece shots at a high level too.

The big Belgian has scored 12.3% of his shots in set piece situations (netting eight of his sixty-five efforts), which compares favourably with the top flight average which is 8.6%. At the same time, this is not as extreme as (for example) when Martin Skrtel scored 50% of his set piece efforts in 2013/14 (with seven goals from fourteen shots), so it’s a scoring rate that should be more likely to be sustained. Perhaps Benteke’s presence will lift Liverpool closer to their remarkable dead ball exploits which in turn helped to power a title challenge two seasons ago?

Aside from all of the above, researching this article has heartened me about Benteke in other ways that suggest he’s no mere battering ram; I found three goals where he won the ball himself high up the pitch before scoring (with two of these officially classed as counter attacks), three more where he received a pass in a deeper area and dribbled past a defender ahead of netting, and he also won a penalty that he converted to win a local derby 4-3.

I’m still not convinced he’s the right choice for Liverpool, as he hardly seems like a direct alternative to Daniel Sturridge (which is what the Reds so sorely lacked as they toiled for most of last season), but I have at least convinced myself that providing him with crosses shouldn’t be a struggle, and that he can score goals in a wide variety of ways. What do you think?

Please follow me on Twitter or Facebook for blog updates. Scroll down to see the related posts for this article. Thanks.

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23 thoughts on “The Truth About Benteke and Crosses

  1. I really liked this article. Think it shows that Benteke is a more rounded out striker than some give him credit for, while also showing that Liverpool already create plenty of crossed chances so will benefit from someone who is good at converting them.

    You mentioned Clyne as a potential source of assists for Benteke, but I’d also point out that Moreno is very good at getting into crossing positions but has appeared weak at producing a good final ball. I think that having a Benteke type player in the box instead of Sterling or Coutinho type will make it easier for him to turn those good crossing positions into good crosses. I think signing Benteke might actually be difference in Moreno being a success instead of a failure at Liverpool.

  2. Excellent and very enlightening article. I wish you would write more on yr site than at TTT so yr articles could go to a much wider audience of folk who need educating/informing!

  3. Well done Andrew, and you are a bass playing Liverpool fan like myself. I’m happy we are signing Benteke because I’ve always thought there was more to his football brain other than his forehead, though I don’t have any analysis to support my gut. What we miss most about Suarez, beside the obvious talent, is the sheer level of time and concentration he demanded from opposition defenders allowing others to proffer in front of goal. Benteke, I think, will do the same, albeit in a different fashion to Luis. I find 80% of football analysis shockingly narrow and almost always reactive so this was a breath of fresh air, I’m retuning my bass to your site today. 😄

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  5. Which of our lilliputian forwards exactly were we supposed to be crossing the ball into last season – Sterling, Coutinho? Look at the rate of return when we at least had Sturridge out there. Max was right about Moreno’s crossing tendency and poor final ball. It wasn’t so much that the ball was bad, but there was no one near the box capable of attacking it. Crossing without a target is rather futile. I think Moreno (or possibly Gomez) and Clyne will have no trouble finding crossing possibilities for Benteke.

    Our biggest problem last season without Suarez opening up defenses from behind was getting the final ball into the box with a danger man in there. If Liverpool led a stat category last season, it was final balls drilled into the shins of defenders. If they had a 6’3 raptor patrolling the skies I imagine Coutinho might have considered an aerial approach more frequently. Milner, Henderson or Can are capable crossers. But you need a target. Now they have one.

    Serves us right for listening to Timmy.

  6. This is a great article, personally it gives me confidence that benteke is a good enough player for us (Liverpool)- I’m still certain that the price isn’t right but that’s got nothing to do with the article. It gives lots of facts as well as opinion, it was very detailed, honest and ‘made to the best’. I will definitely be reading more from articles from the writer!

  7. Really enjoyed that article, especially as it was clearly unbiased as sometimes wishful thinking can gloss over weaknesses and worries.

    I had been thinking about Clyne (and Moreno) as being very important this year and was left feeling quite optimistic having witnessed Clyne and Ibe cause all sorts of trouble against Adelaide albeit a friendly.

    My dad pointed out a couple of years ago, when Liverpool had just bought Downing, that in a world full of stats a winger lives and dies by his striker. If the striker doesn’t put the ball in the back of the net then the winger/full back doesn’t get the assist and if the forwards have poor movement then they don’t even get a completed cross. Moreno bombed down the left countless times last season to either look up and find no one in the 6 yard box or to only spot the diminutive likes of Sterling and Coutinho.

    I think the cross stats will go up this year because we will have two lightning quick full backs who like to attack and because you’ll have a target man with good movement awaiting the ball in the centre. This doesn’t mean he’s simply a big lumbering ox. e.g. Suarez was a great target man – just fire the ball at him and it will stick (or he will have created space by his movement to look unmarked), it’s simply one of his strengths.

    Again it’s the sum of the parts rather than placing responsibility on one player. Liverpool need to score more goals this season. Benteke will score them, be it with head or foot. I think the article goes along way to backing that up. If other stats are needed, Benteke has scored more goals against Liverpool in the past three seasons than Balotelli and Borini scored in their entire Liverpool careers.

  8. Really enjoyed that article, especially as it was clearly unbiased as sometimes wishful thinking can gloss over weaknesses and worries.

    I had been thinking about Clyne (and Moreno) as being very important this year and was left feeling quite optimistic having witnessed Clyne and Ibe cause all sorts of trouble against Adelaide albeit a friendly.

    My dad pointed out a couple of years ago, when Liverpool had just bought Downing, that in a world full of stats a winger lives and dies by his striker. If the striker doesn’t put the ball in the back of the net then the winger/full back doesn’t get the assist and if the forwards have poor movement then they don’t even get a completed cross. Moreno bombed down the left countless times last season to either look up and find no one in the 6 yard box or to only spot the diminutive likes of Sterling and Coutinho.

    I think the cross stats will go up this year because we will have two lightning quick full backs who like to attack and because you’ll have a target man with good movement awaiting the ball in the centre. This doesn’t mean he’s simply a big lumbering ox. e.g. Suarez was a great target man – just fire the ball at him and it will stick (or he will have created space by his movement to look unmarked), it’s simply one of his strengths.

    Again it’s the sum of the parts rather than placing responsibility on one player. Liverpool need to score more goals this season. Benteke will score them, be it with head or foot. I think the article goes along way to backing that up. If other stats are needed, Benteke has scored more goals against Liverpool in the past three seasons than Balotelli and Borini scored in their entire Liverpool careers.

  9. Great analysis, thank you.
    Don’t understand all the negativity about Benteke. Surely the more variety we can muster in our attacking play the better.It is much easier for teams to defend against opponents who pose no threat from wide areas. The big Belgian (get used to that phrase) will provide this threat and , as you say, much more besides.
    We have been a soft touch for a while now.Players like Benteke and Milner will help us in the physical battles against the more rough and ready Prem sides and Mr B’s power and presence will be a boon in both penalty boxes.And a quick look at the variety of his goals on youtube show that he is no one-trick pony.
    Although it will be a tall order to crack the top 4 I am optimistic about the new season. We have undoubtedly improved in several areas with the additions of Clyne, Milner and Benteke . Hopefully last season’s new recruits will have benefitted from the settling in period and the management team will be reinvigorated after recent changes. And then there’s the wild card of Mr Firmino, a possible new hero in the making.

  10. Good article and actually makes me feel better about the Benteke signing. Not going to lie I was a little concerned we would not play to his strengths before. Basically its more to do with the quality of the crosses into the box than the quantity. What happening with his medical by the way? Thought he would have officially signed by now.

  11. I had the pleasure of watching a lot of his games at Genk and there he spent an insane amount of time on the wing dribbling past opponents. He’s very fast, agile and quick. He just happens to be big. He’ll set this league on fire from the start and when Danny comes back and there are two up front, ’13-’14 all over again.

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