Christian Benteke's Liverpool future was plunged into further doubt on Sunday afternoon, as a tense exchange between the Belgian striker and Jurgen Klopp saw the manager publicly admonish the Reds' £32.5 million after a 3-2 defeat to Southampton.
Provided the perfect chance to extend Liverpool's lead at 2-1 up at St. Mary's Stadium, Benteke was sent through on goal by a well-weighted Adam Lallana pass, but he scuffed his effort wide of Fraser Forster's post. Klopp's side went on to concede twice more in a brutal capitulation that has likely ended their top-four hopes.
Klopp was criticised for his on-field discussion, and former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy told Match of the Day 2 (h/t the Independent): "If you're going to give someone a telling off then do it inside."
This is unlikely to deter the German, however, with BBC Sport's Ben Smith revealing after full-time that Benteke will be made available to other clubs at the end of the season, making clear Klopp's stance on the former Aston Villa striker, who has failed to settle following his move to Merseyside last summer:
Ben Smith @BSmith
Benteke among those who'll be made available in summer. Mignolet not guaranteed No 1. #LFC still interested in Götze, Udinese's Zielinski3/20/2016, 3:28:52 PM
Klopp's other options at centre-forward stand as Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Danny Ings, with Roberto Firmino also capable of performing the No. 9 role—though the Brazilian is at his best just behind the striker.
And while this quartet should provide Liverpool with enough firepower, Klopp may wish to replace Benteke.
So who could Liverpool move for if they sell the forward this summer? Here are three possible targets.
Michy Batshuayi (Marseille)
Benteke's fate could be tied to that of Marseille striker Michy Batshuayi this summer for two reasons.
Firstly, the 25-year-old's position in Belgium head coach Marc Wilmots' squad for the 2016 UEFA European Championship could be affected by Batshuayi's form in Ligue 1.
Wilmots discussed his attacking options with Belgian publication Het Nieuwsblad (h/t Goal) earlier in March, with Benteke, Batshuayi and Everton striker Romelu Lukaku all competing for a ticket to France this summer:
It's difficult. Klopp arrived at Liverpool and has made his choice. Now, Christian Benteke is full of doubt. It's a shame for Benteke, but he still has time to show what he can do at Liverpool. He already missed the World Cup due to injury, missing the Euro would be painful for him.
I will choose according to the profiles, not in the form of the last two months or anything like this. Batshuayi is a goal-scorer, a player of the 18-yard box. Benteke is better with his head and in combinations. Lukaku is strong and fast.
Benteke, Batshuayi, Origi and Lukaku all made Wilmots' squad for the upcoming international break, but this may change in the summer, particularly if the ex-Villa man continues his struggle to adapt at Liverpool.
Furthermore, as Adrian Kajumba of the Mirror revealed, Benteke has joined Wilfried Bony and Odion Ighalo on a list of alternatives should West Ham United fail to sign Batshuayi this summer, with the Marseille man believed to be the Hammers' "first-choice target."
A switch to the Olympic Stadium next season would suit Benteke, with Slaven Bilic showing a willingness to employ a direct style of play in his first season in charge at West Ham, and the Belgian could compete with another former Liverpool striker, Andy Carroll.
The possibility of Benteke signing for West Ham and Batshuayi instead moving to Liverpool would suit both parties, too, as the 22-year-old has showcased the pace, power and dynamism that Klopp requires in a centre-forward, scoring 18 goals in 40 appearances for Marseille so far this season.
With scope for further development, Batshuayi could be the prolific striker that Klopp needs if Benteke leaves the club this summer; and valuable competition for Sturridge, Origi and Ings.
Javier Hernandez (Bayer Leverkusen)
The prospect of former Manchester United poacher Javier Hernandez joining Liverpool is a controversial one, but it is a move that could come to fruition this summer, if the Times' Rory Smith (h/t ESPN FC) is to be believed.
At the end of January, Smith claimed that Hernandez had been made one of Liverpool's "priority targets" for the summer, after they failed in a speculative move for the Bayer Leverkusen man this winter.
Liverpool are said to hold a longstanding interest in the Mexican, who joined the Bundesliga club for around £12 million last summer after a season spent on loan with Real Madrid, and given the 27-year-old's profile, it is easy to see why.
Hernandez is a hard-working striker blessed with pace, a great understanding of space and movement, and a predatory instinct; though lacking the Liverpool striker's physical stature, he is a similar option to Sturridge.
Since his move to Leverkusen, Hernandez has scored 23 goals in 34 appearances in all competitions, preserving a remarkable goalscoring record that has seen his tally rise to 120 goals in 299 games over spells with Guadalajara, United, Madrid and his current side.
Crucially for Klopp, Hernandez has proved his ability to operate in a high-intensity, pressing system at Leverkusen, as manager Roger Schmidt explained in November, as relayed by German publication Kicker (h/t ESPN FC).
"Every team benefits from an attacker like Chicharito, who scores regularly," he said, "He's integrated really well into our game. It's extraordinary that he scores that consistently."
This consistency, and the ability to thrive in a system similar to that of Klopp's at Liverpool, makes Hernandez—in his prime at 27—an obvious target for Liverpool.
Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon)
France international Alexandre Lacazette was on the radar of a number of Premier League clubs last summer, after a sensational, free-scoring campaign in which he netted 27 times in 33 Ligue 1 games, as Lyon finished second and secured automatic qualification for the Champions League.
This season, without the support of Nabil Fekir, who suffered an ACL injury on international duty in September, Lacazette has struggled to replicate his 2014/15 output, but he has still scored 14 goals in 27 league games.
After signing a new contract with Lyon in August, Lacazette is again targeting a move to the Premier League this summer, as he told French outlet Le10Sport (h/t Metro) earlier in March:
A departure? Yes, I think the Premier League is a very attractive for a player.
But I know that to go, I have to play well this season. So I'm very focused and perhaps after that, I will leave.
I know it's possible to go [to] the Premier League and Lyon is also aware.
The Metro article links Liverpool with a move to sign the 24-year-old, and if Benteke is to leave Merseyside this summer, Lacazette would be an ideal replacement.
A skilful forward, at his best off the shoulder of opposing centre-backs, Lacazette is another striker similar to Sturridge, and with the Liverpool striker enduring a number of injury setbacks during his time at the club, finding a reliable alternative would be a wise move by Klopp.
Having extended his terms with Lyon at the beginning of 2015/16, with his contract set to expire in 2019, Lacazette is unlikely to be available in a cut-price deal.
Given his goalscoring ability, though, he may be worth a gamble this summer.
Statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk.
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