Liverpool have been linked to a move for Aston Villa star Christian Benteke for several weeks now, but more recent reports have their fiercest rivals, Manchester United, lining up a move as well. The Belgian striker has been an emerging star over the past three years, and Aston Villa would be loathe to give him up -- but if either Liverpool or Manchester are willing to meet the £32.5 million release clause in Benteke's contract, Villa won't have a choice.
So the question now isn't so much whether or not Benteke will leave, as both clubs are flush with cash right now, making that release clause easy to justify, and both need to add a striker. Instead, the question is this: Which club does Christian Benteke fit better, Liverpool or Manchester United?
His skill set is an attractive one. Tall, strong and athletic, Benteke is also deceptively quick -- while he's not going to beat a ton of guys for open-field speed, his ability to turn on the jets in short spaces, often while changing directions with ease, has left a number of defenders befuddled or even planted face-first on the pitch. Benteke will use that quickness combined with his raw strength to get deeper into the box when he's on the ball, but he also has a fair understanding of where to set himself up to receive the ball from his teammates as well.
Those are all traits that fit well with either one of his suitors, but given as Manchester are looking to replace Robin van Persie, who aside from sheer strength shares many of those same traits, the fit might be smoother in Old Trafford on that front. In fact, considering the "smashmouth with guile" style of football being preached by Louis Van Gaal -- a style further aided by the recent additions of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger -- it could be hard to look past Manchester as the best place for Benteke to go.
But that doesn't mean you should look past Liverpool as a potential destination for Benteke. They can make excellent use out of those same traits that make him attractive to Manchester, but there's one part of Benteke's skill set that they can better utilize. His passing ability, while lacking a sheer creative edge, is one that works well with the supporting attackers like Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino flitting around him. Benteke is very good at pulling defenders toward him to open space for a supporting run, then laying the ball off into space that only that runner can get to. That's something that Liverpool have tried to do often in the last year since Luis Suarez has left, but thanks to Daniel Sturridge being oft-injured and their other strikers not getting the job done, they've struggled to execute it.
That said, Manchester United hold a pretty big tiebreaker over their rivals at Anfield -- Champions League football. They finished fourth last year, placing them in the Champions League playoff qualifier, the last step before the sought-after group stage. With their likely opponents and the side they're putting together, it's very likely that United will win that playoff and reach the promised land again, and with their financial resources, they'll be looking to stay there. Given the relative strength of the current top four, Liverpool will face a tough challenge to reach the Champions League again soon.
Benteke might have better personal results at Anfield, but if starring in the Champions League is his goal, then Manchester is probably the choice he'll make. Either way, it looks like the Belgian international is going to be wearing a red shirt next season, and playing well in it.