BY LUCAS BALL
Christian Benteke has extra motivation to hit the goal trail this season for Crystal Palace – to force his way back into Roberto Martinez’s Belgium squad.
The centre-forward had a disappointing 2017-18 campaign where he managed just three goals in 31 Premier League appearances. He picked up the same amount of yellow cards as assists for the Eagles last season, with six of each.
Benteke was left as a spectator as his country reached the last four at the World Cup with Martinez not choosing to take the former Liverpool and Aston Villa man to Russia.
Benteke told Palace TV: “I would say the first game, the first game was tough because obviously you say if you had a good season, I was going to be there. After the first game, it was more a motivation because I said now it’s up to me – if I score goals and play well, I’ll be there.
“Yeah, I’ve watched a few of the Belgium games and also some other teams and this World Cup is the strangest World Cup ever, I would say because every team feels that they can win it.”
He concedes that his time at Selhurst Park so far has been a mixed bag with regards to performances and his goal tally.
His move from Liverpool drew a lot of attention to the side, then managed by Alan Pardew, but many fans would argue that he has not justified the reported £28 million fee.
“The first season when I came, I wasn’t involved that much but I was scoring goals. I would say people don’t care if you’re not that good in the game but you score goals – because you’re a striker. Last season, I was more involved but I didn’t score as much, so it was a mix of feelings for me because obviously I was part of the game, but I couldn’t score. I’m really looking forward to this season. I prepared myself to be good and, yeah, to be me.”
Ahead of the new season, the former Aston Villa man seems fairly assured in what he is doing to prepare for another gruelling Premier League season, admitting that he has approached it slightly differently after some holidays abroad and time visiting family.
“I’ve been first to Belgium straight away to spend some time with my parents because I don’t have the time to see them a lot. Then I went to Bali with my wife before going back to Belgium to prepare myself for the new season.
“They give us a programme. In the first week, it’s a lot of work on the treadmill and some running outside as well.”
He also seems to relish the challenge of adapting to a new role under Eagles boss Roy Hodgson, formerly of England.
“It’s different – that’s why I say I’m getting ready also to adapt my type of play with the way that the manager wants us to play. I think if we do it well, we can be a big threat. We showed that last season.”
For Benteke, these pre-season games are all about building match fitness for the new campaign, but he wants to get on the scoresheet as much as possible before 2018-19 begins.
Palace are in Sweden and play their first pre-season friendly tomorrow against FC Helsingor (5.30 UK time).
“The confidence you can take out of those games can be perfect for the season. It’s my third year and some of the boys have been here for a long time, so we have a good bond between each other. That’s good for this season, because it’s going to be another tough season. I’m going to be ready for it.”