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Liverpool signed their £32.5m nemesis but transfer gamble lasted just six months

Liverpool Echo logo Liverpool Echo 22/07/2021 Andrew Beasley
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If Liverpool fans were used to one thing from the first quarter century of the Premier League, it was their beloved Reds suffering a slump after finishing second in the league.

It happened in 2002/03, 2009/10, and unfortunately for Brendan Rodgers, it also occurred in 2014/15.

A big part of the problem that season was a struggle to score goals. Luis Suarez moved to Barcelona in the summer of 2014, and injuries restricted Daniel Sturridge to just 12 appearances in the league.

That pair had almost powered Liverpool to the title in 2013/14 by scoring 52 league goals between them, but the following season the whole team only managed 10 more than that.

The men tasked with replacing Sturridge and Suarez simply failed to deliver. Mario Balotelli scored four goals in all competitions, Rickie Lambert three and Fabio Borini only one.

But for all that Liverpool struggled, the season was not a complete write off. They reached the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, where they faced Aston Villa.

Philippe Coutinho gave the Reds the lead, before Christian Benteke equalised. The Belgian was arguably Liverpool’s number one nemesis around this time, with his semi-final strike his fifth against the club at that point.

He had proven unplayable, particularly when Villa visited Anfield in December 2012 and he scored twice in a 3-1 away win.

Villa took the lead in the second half at Wembley, and Rodgers made multiple tactical and formation shifts but to no avail.

His side then lost three of their final six matches after the semi-final, winning only once, culminating in a final day 6-1 horror show defeat at Stoke.

Many Liverpool fans would have sacked Rodgers that summer, others felt he deserved a chance to redeem himself thanks to what he had achieved in 2013/14.

Either way, he needed a good start to the following campaign, and with goals having proven hard to come by, he took a big roll of the dice on Benteke.

A £32.5m one to be exact.

Six years ago this week, Rodgers made the Aston Villa man the second most expensive transfer in Liverpool history.

Roberto Firmino also joined the club that summer but there was no doubt in whom the manager had more faith.

Benteke played the full 90 minutes in each of the Reds’ first five games, scoring a winner against Bournemouth and a sensational scissor kick at Old Trafford.

However, he had to be substituted with a hamstring strain in the match following the 3-1 loss to Manchester United, and by the time he returned from injury Liverpool had a new manager in the shape of Jurgen Klopp.

Again, Benteke started well, scoring what looked to be a winner against Southampton (until Sadio Mane intervened with an equaliser) and bagged a goal and assist off the bench in an impressive 3-1 victory at Chelsea.

A change in manager often means a change in style, though, and the Liverpool team of 2015/16 were no exception on this front.

For the eighth match of Klopp’s fledgling reign the Reds headed to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City, and absolutely tore them to shreds in an electric first half of counter pressing and incisive, quick passing in the final third.

By the time Benteke replaced Firmino with 15 minutes to go, the Brazilian had set up the first two goals and scored the third in what would finish as a resounding 4-1 win. It was clear which way the wind was blowing for the new look Liverpool.

The big Belgian was still able to contribute, scoring winners against Leicester, Sunderland and Crystal Palace, and finished the campaign with 10 goals, only three shy of top scorer Sturridge.

But he played a total of just 15 minutes across the Reds’ nine matches in the Europa League knockout phase, and his starts were mostly restricted to the league games which fell between European fixtures when the main men needed a rest.

In the space of six months Benteke went from being the club’s second costliest player to surplus to requirements, thanks almost entirely to the managerial change which occurred along the way.

So what did he do? He moved to Crystal Palace and returned to Merseyside in April 2017 to score both goals for his side in a 2-1 win, a match which remains Liverpool’s last home league defeat in front of a packed Anfield. Nemesis reborn.

Benteke then hit a very rough few years in front of goal, though he did hit double figures in the Premier League last season and only five players in the division averaged more non-penalty goals per 90 minutes.

His year at Liverpool will always remain an interesting footnote in his career, but Benteke isn’t finished just yet.

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