Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke is relishing the prospect of fighting for his first-team place now he is injury-free and “feeling great”.
The Belgian returned to Palace’s starting XI for the first time since September 1 in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Fulham, having been sidelined by a knee injury, and almost scored his first goal since a penalty on April 28 with a bicycle kick that hit the crossbar.
Where for so much of his career at Selhurst Park Benteke has been their only fit, senior striker, Thursday’s arrival on loan of Michy Batshuayi means that in his compatriot, Connor Wickham and Jordan Ayew he suddenly faces intense competition.
Benteke has played with a significant lack of confidence for much of his time there but if the past season was a difficult one for the entire club, this one has been disrupted by injury, and the 28-year-old said: “Now my body is free and I am fit again, so I have no excuse. I am feeling great.
“I enjoyed myself, but it has just been about waiting (for my chance) because I have worked so hard to be back out there. I was just a little bit anxious about my body because obviously I didn’t play for a long time.”
“I wouldn’t say (I feel threatened by Batshuayi’s arrival) because we have probably been lacking in goals. At the same time we are in the Premier League so you have to accept everything. The gaffer (Roy Hodgson) and the chairman (Steve Parish) want us to not be where we are now but even higher.
“I spoke (to Batshuayi) the night before he signed.
“We are four up front now, so it gives the gaffer a lot of options.”
Palace took the lead against Fulham through Luka Milivojevic’s 25th-minute penalty and Jeff Schlupp added a late second after Batshuayi, making his debut as an 82nd-minute substitute, saw his shot palmed out by Sergio Rico.
Having previously been left with little choice but to use wingers Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend in an unorthodox front two — and Palace finally looked comfortable in the suspended Zaha’s absence — manager Roy Hodgson is delighted to now have options up front.
He said: “Christian has done well to get back to where he is. He has worked very hard.
“It was a serious injury that required surgery, but I’m sure he’s saying ‘Right, I’m here, I’ve got the shirt, I’m going to keep hold of it. Other people have got to wrest it from me’.
“Suddenly there are a few alternatives. So I take off Benteke and change the system, which I can now do, and then take off Ayew and put on Batshuayi and he virtually wins the (Fulham) game for us. All of sudden I’m looking at a bench, ‘Hold on, this might be the answer’ which last year we didn’t really have.”
Defeat took Fulham significantly closer to relegation, given of their next seven fixtures, three are away and they host Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City at Craven Cottage.
Cottagers defender Denis Odoi revealed they had been relying on three points at Selhurst Park, and that manager Claudio Ranieri has demanded they compensate at home.
“The fact that we lost this game means we need to take three points from one of the top teams at home,” the 30-year-old said. “(It’s made survival) a lot harder. Getting a win against City, United, Liverpool, it’s not easy to do that, so it’s going to be very hard.”
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