Benteke vs Lukaku: The Big Belgian Bake off
The Premier League kicks off with Everton v Crystal Palace, which draws attention to the two main strikers of Belgium’s golden generation.
Romelu Lukaku will have to shake off his recent toe problems as Everton manager Ronald Koeman has confirmed he will look his Belgian team mate Christian Benteke in the eye at Goodison Park tonight.
There is a proverb in Belgium “Wie bakt er wat van?”, which boils down to the question of tonight. Which striker bakes the best pistachio, cardamom and lemon drizzle cake and impresses national pastry chef Roberto Martinez?
Lukaku and Benteke have both kicked off their seasons in goal scoring form and are on good terms with their home fans and managers. Both starting their PL-career in 2012, their head-to-head goal tally after 4 seasons ticks off at a 64-53 advantage in Lukaku’s favour.
Tonight they meet at quite different stages in their careers. In the summer Benteke made the move from Liverpool to Crystal Palace to digest a difficult season and revive his career. In his third season at Everton, Lukaku netted 18 goals and just about missed out on a transfer back to the side which brought him to the Premier League, his all-time love Chelsea. There were not too many hard feelings between player and club after the failed move and Lukaku looks confident at the start of yet another year of confirmation.
Style of Play
Apart from their height, both 6 ft 3, both strikers display an extensive set of similarities. More than simply an instrument to finish, Benteke and Lukaku play best in a system where they are allowed to dictate their sides’ style of play. Something which is well understood by their current managers and not so much by the ones at respectively Liverpool and Chelsea. Although both are considered target men, they take quite a different approach to that role. Benteke is lethal in the air, whilst Lukaku physically overpowers his opponents.
Belgium's number 9
In the run-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Belgian team’s number one striker position was the subject of national discussion. Benteke’s 23 goals in the 2012-2013 season almost single-handedly kept Aston Villa in the premiership and only a ruptured achilles tendon held him from continuing his form in the next season. The hopes of a wildly eager country fell on his 21-year old rival’s broad shoulders. Although Lukaku’s loan spells at West Bromwich Albion and Everton were far from disastrous, 17 and 15 goals, his young age and dubitable ball handling worried fans and experts. In the end he never truly seemed up to the task and eventually it was the even younger Divock Origi who ended up stealing the Belgian hearts.
After that the momentum slowly started to shift. At Everton Lukaku worked hard on his shortcomings and looked more comfortable on the ball every week. Benteke’s struggles at Liverpool finally cost him his title as Belgium’s best striker. Lukaku became the current generation's topscorer and entered EURO 2016 as Belgium’s undisputed number one striker.
Lukaku's performance at the Euro's was, however, unconvincing and with both strikers firmly planted in the starting line ups of their clubs, the race for the number nine spot for the World Cup qualifiers seems to be wide open again. Belgian manager Roberto Martinez will be keeping an attentive eye on both penalty boxes tonight.