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Struggling Benteke Returns to Aston Villa

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Christian Benteke returns to his former club with doubts surrounding his future at Liverpool FC.

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Striking failures at Liverpool seem to outnumber the the ones who truly made their mark. There are even those who exist somewhat in the middle such as Stan Collymore and Emile Heskey, players who couldn't match the returns of impressive debut seasons. Fernando Morientes -- a player who possessed the pedigree and quality to shine -- remains a curiosity even now, while not much needs to be said about the likes of Andriy Voronin, Sean Dundee, and El Hadji Diouf.

The two most expensive signings in the club's history seem destined to be compared with another. For Andy Carroll, Luis Suárez was the one who further highlighted the £35 million man's unsuitability. Daniel Sturridge's return against West Ham United in the FA Cup only served to illustrate what Liverpool had been missing in a period where Christian Benteke couldn't get into the team ahead of Roberto Firmino. Although Benteke has his qualities, it isn't unfair to point out that £32.5 million shouldn't be spent on a striker in his mid-twenties who cannot get into the side when no other senior striker is available.

In the summer, Fenway Sports Group went with Brendan Rodgers' "winning model" in finding a striker and have seen the results this season. Benteke was a curious choice for Rodgers given that his tenure as Liverpool manager revealed a knack for working excellently with mobile and technically proficient attacking players. Jürgen Klopp is reportedly considering starting Daniel Sturridge against Aston Villa after excellent performances in training and a hugely promising outing against West Ham earlier in the week. Where does that leave Christian Benteke?

The 25-year-old has been considered as a starting option only when Firmino needs a rest in FA Cup matches and is essentially an enormously costly squad player. With the return of Philippe Coutinho, Divock Origi, and one of the deadliest strikers in English football, opportunities to turn things around may be even rarer. The support that Firmino has lacked in attack has returned. If Coutinho and Sturridge are fit, they will start alongside Firmino. Sturridge may need to be managed but is Liverpool's best source of goals.

The Belgian international scored at a rate of virtually one in two in all competitions for Aston Villa but hasn't started in the Premier League since the first league game of 2016: an away defeat to West Ham. Scoring a goal every 202 minutes and converting 2 out of 10 big chances isn't a great league return for a player lacking confidence, but Klopp looked at what can be done to restore productivity.

"I can do a lot of things but at the end - and it is not only with Christian - the last important help comes from the player himself," Klopp mused on his striker's lack of form. "It is not the easiest period of his career but the number of opportunities is a good sign. If he had no opportunities it would be a much bigger problem but it is not too easy.

"You cannot hide yourself. I talked to him a few times and gave him some advice as a human being and a coach and he has really tried to come back to an easy moment. Strikers who do not score goals for a longer period, it is more interesting than if someone else does not score enough. There are worse situations in the world - even in the world of football - so we have to carry on and he has to carry on."

The partnership between Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke looked somewhat promising on Tuesday, but Liverpool could benefit more from Firmino playing behind Sturridge in the future -- a move that seems far more likely from what we've seen from Klopp so far. Benteke is more of a backup plan to be used in the latter stages of games, where crosses become more important in search of a goal.

"When crosses come into the box - and the cross is good - and Christian Benteke is not close to it, then something is wrong," Klopp said. "He had these opportunities and he was reacting on the ball and had opportunities after set-pieces. But when you miss a goal, or a chance, it is not like it would be usually because you are thinking, 'Still it didn't change'.

"We speak about it like it is an illness. It is not. It is a situation and you can solve the problem on the pitch or in training or in both moments. It is not as bad as it sounds. Carry on, but you have to change things or the problem will not be solved."

The missed chances against West Ham were extremely frustrating, but Benteke isn't a bad player by any means. Liverpool contest a Capital One Cup final and resume European football this month, providing a few opportunities for a hero to emerge. Capable of a wonder goal or converting a difficult chance, the former Aston Villa striker may make a winning contribution in the near future even if he hasn't scored since the end of December.

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The problem for Benteke is that Liverpool look better without him, and with the season ending in May, time is running out to save his Liverpool career.