Christian Benteke should feel embarrassed at Liverpool plight
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will once again shuffle his pack for the FA Cup fourth round visit of West Ham this Saturday and Christian Benteke may get a chance to turn his career around.
He's out of favour currently but the door is open for him if he can start to show some form. It's not as though he's got Ian Rush, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler blocking his path to the team. With Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings and Divock Origi all sidelined, Benteke should feel embarrassed that he isn't the first name on Klopp's team sheet right now.
A £32.5 million international striker should not be watching from the bench when his manager's only other option at centre forward is Roberto Firmino -- a talented attacker but not a natural No.9 -- but that's the situation Benteke finds himself in. He can have no real complaints as he is not getting the job done.
The opportunity is there for him to be Liverpool's main man, but it's up to him to take it and so far he has failed to do so. He should view this game as his chance to get back on track. He'll certainly need to put in a better performance than the "effort" he managed in Liverpool's 2-2 draw at Exeter in the third round.
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Benteke could start in a side that will be much-changed following the gruelling Capital One Cup semifinal win over Stoke in midweek. You can't continue just sending out the same players twice a week because it soon catches up with you, either with injuries or just flat performances from tired players.
That won't stop some from criticising Klopp when he fields a "weakened" side this weekend, but it's not as though he's tinkering just for the sake of it. It's an incredibly difficult balancing act that so far he's got just about right. With most of his first choice players playing 120 minutes against Stoke in midweek, sending them out again to face a West Ham side who are rapidly becoming a bogey team for Liverpool would be both risky and foolish, especially with a trip to league leaders Leicester City coming up next Tuesday.
Klopp claimed on Friday that his team "broke all records" for distance covered against Stoke, revealing that his team collectively ran for 156km in that game. He also stated that some individual players ran for 17km, so few -- if any -- of those who played the majority of Tuesday night's game will be included on Saturday.
The players likely to come in are not exactly novices, however, and the line-up won't look as inexperienced as the one that took to the field at Exeter in the last round. Dejan Lovren, Steven Caulker, Joe Allen, Benteke and Jordon Ibe are all likely to start, while there should be opportunities for the likes of Brad Smith, Joao Teixeira and Cameron Brannagan again. Nathaniel Clyne may return after missing the Stoke game with a sore knee.
It won't be a full-strength team on paper, but bringing in fresh legs gives the Reds a better chance of success than sticking with players who have had energy sapping, emotionally draining games with Norwich and Stoke in the last seven days. Making so many changes is not a gamble, it's a necessity. It gives Liverpool their best chance of coming through a very difficult game and progressing in the competition.
There's no danger of Liverpool taking this game lightly as the Hammers have already beaten them twice this season, by a combined score of 5-0. That's unacceptable from Liverpool's perspective and they will be looking to exact a measure of revenge this Saturday. Motivation certainly should not be a problem but West Ham are strong away from home and have the pace and physical presence that Liverpool often struggle against.
The game represents a great opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim for a regular place. While Benteke has deservedly spent time on the bench, Allen can consider himself very unfortunate not to have started more games as he's been Liverpool's most impressive midfielder over recent weeks. He's outperforming Lucas Leiva, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson (who has been hampered by injury and will miss this game) but can't seem to force his way past any of them regardless of how well he has played. The West Ham game is another opportunity for him to show Klopp that he should be first choice.
There's extra incentive for those selected on Saturday because now there are cup final places up for grabs. Klopp's starting line-up is far from being set in stone so a good performance against West Ham could suddenly propel a player into the manager's thoughts for Wembley. With Alberto Moreno struggling of late, perhaps Brad Smith might catch the eye and put pressure on the Spaniard? Ibe has been in and out of the team recently and his form has been inconsistent, but a good showing against the Hammers could go a long way towards forcing his way into Klopp's starting XI against Manchester City.
Having progressed to the Capital One Cup final, it could be suggested that this game now takes on less importance to Liverpool, but given their struggles in the Premier League the cups are a welcome distraction and having experienced the feeling of reaching one final, the players will be hungry to do so again. Success often breeds success and for Liverpool this year the cups are their only chance of achieving something.
In 2000-01 they won the League Cup and then went on a remarkable run that saw them also win the FA Cup and UEFA Cup as well as clinching a Champions League spot on the final day of the season.
Klopp will be hoping history repeats itself, but he'll have to get past West Ham first.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.