We all thought Villa were going to be without Christian Benteke for a significant stretch of time to start this season. But according to a report in today's Sunday People, it appears that the Belgian international might be back in just a month, ready to go for Villa's fourth league fixture and the start of the season's toughest stretch.
On the whole, the report if true is great news. It talks about how Benteke is ahead of schedule and with the two-week international break between the third and fourth match day, he might be able to make the trip to Anfield on 13 September. It also mentions that Benteke is reportedly "badgering" Lambert to get him back in action and seems to indicate that the player is ready to get firing for Villa after missing the World Cup which is great news.
If Benteke does in fact return for the away visit to Liverpool, he'll only miss the trip to Stoke and the home fixtures against Newcastle and Hull City—all winnable ones even without the main man. But it should definitely follow that having Christian Benteke in the lineup greatly increases Villa's chances to put up another strong performance under Paul Lambert at Anfield—or for that matter to take points in any of the next three fixtures; home to Arsenal, away to Chelsea, and home to Manchester City. A healthy, firing Benteke probably makes one win in that stretch borderline likely, especially with Villa's knack for playing well on the counterattack. And the tough run doesn't stop there—it's followed up by visits to Everton and QPR before a home match with Tottenham Hotspur.
But before we go partying in the streets, we should remember how Benteke looked after coming back from his first injury last season. He started out the year on the same fine form we he showed in his first year at B6 and scored five goals in as many competitive fixtures to start the season. But in mid-September, he exited Villa's 1-0 win at Carrow Road in the first half with a groin injury that caused him to miss a month. When he returned from injury, however, he failed to net in his first 10 appearances back with the club, not scoring again until mid-January in the 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal.
That goal marked the beginning of a mini-run of form for Villa as they'd go to Anfield and pick up a point—squandering a 2-0 lead—before coming home to beat West Brom in that 4-3 thriller, both matches in which Benteke bagged a goal. But despite his worth to the team, it's a valid question to ask if Christian Benteke was rushed back to action too early last season. He didn't look comfortable or confident for long stretches of time during the run and Villa only managed 7 goals in 10 matches, including the conclusion of that horrid seven-hour goalless stretch.
So, I think the argument can go both ways. On one hand, it's obvious what an in-form Benteke does for this team; 20 goals rather than 10 from him on the season probably makes the difference between a comfortably-mid-table side and one that's fighting relegation once again. But considering the matches he'd be rushing back to play in—the four successive matches against the Champions League sides—it's worth posing the question if he'd be better served waiting it out another month, making sure he's fully fit, and getting ready to hit his best form in a Villa shirt for the 11-match stretch that sees Villa play just one match against a top seven team from last year.
How Paul Lambert answers Christian Benteke's "badgering" might be the most important decision he makes all year.
What would you rather Lambert do? Risk bringing him back too early or risk missing out on points to make sure he's 100%? Let us know in the comments!