Roy Hodgson has challenged Christian Benteke to “step up to the plate” amid increased competition in Crystal Palace’s forward line following the recent acquisition of Jean-Philippe Mateta.
The signing last week of the French forward on an 18-month loan deal from Bundesliga outfit Mainz has led to suggestions Benteke could be on his way out of Palace, and West Brom have been linked with a move for the Belgian.
Baggies boss Sam Allardyce revealed earlier on Monday he would be keen on Benteke if he was available, saying: “I’d be interested because we all know I’m looking for a frontman if at all possible.”
But Benteke has had more involvement for the Eagles in the last couple of months, having had to wait until December 6 for his first start of the season, and Hodgson seems reluctant to part company with the ex-Liverpool striker.
“Christian is in our team at the moment and I didn’t know Sam had been talking about that, but he’s not spoken to me about it, so I don’t quite know who he’s speaking to,” Hodgson said.
“Christian Benteke is still part of our team here so I’m not convinced the club are going to interested in letting him go.
“There are going to be some important fixtures coming up for us, if we’re going to achieve our goal I don’t think I can have too many forwards and goalscorers to help me achieve that.
“(The signing of Mateta) does increase the competition for the players who are here but I’m expecting them to step up to the plate and fight off that competition that he’ll provide.”
A few visa issues will preclude Mateta from making his Palace debut against London rivals West Ham on Tuesday night although Hodgson believes it would have been “too soon” to put the 23-year-old in the squad had he been available.
However, Hodgson is delighted with the newest arrival at Selhurst Park and hopes he can make an impact up top, with Palace’s frontmen struggling for goals this term: Benteke has three, Jordan Ayew has one and Michy Batshuayi none.
“As a manager, especially with a team that hasn’t always scored enough goals, we’ve created more chances than we’ve converted, you can’t have too many forwards,” Hodgson added.
“(Mateta is) tall and athletic. He’s someone who likes to run and get behind defences, he’s certainly someone who’s really only interested in the penalty area and scoring goals.
“We think he’s the type of player who will adapt his game very well to the Premier League because he has the sort of qualities that are important in Premier League football today.
“It’s going to be a challenge for him in the beginning, but he certainly comes with a good pedigree and attitude, he’s an intelligent, young man and I really think he’s going to settle in particularly well.”
Palace will be without defender James Tomkins after what Hodgson called “an accident in training” for the visit of West Ham, who sit seventh in the Premier League and have won their last five matches in all competitions.
“They’re very, very dangerous,” Hodgson said. “It’s not a good time to play them in that respect because their confidence must be very, very high.”
However, Hodgson will be able to call upon Wilfried Zaha, who missed the 4-0 defeat at Manchester City last time out with a knock.
“When you’ve got to play without one of your top players it’s pretty obvious you’re going to miss him so we’re delighted that he recovered so quickly and I’m hoping to see the best of him (against West Ham),” Hodgson added.
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