Ron Atkinson makes bold claim about Aston Villa, Liverpool and Benteke

The former Villa boss believes his old side could finish above Liverpool, but on one condition.

Former Aston Villa boss Ron Atkinson has told the Daily Mail that he believes his old club could finish above Liverpool next season, if they retain Christian Benteke.

The Belgian has been heavily linked with a move away from Villa Park in the summer, with a number of top clubs reportedly chasing his signature.

He has been in fine form at the end of this season, since Tim Sherwood took over at the club, having failed to find form and fitness when the club were struggling under previous boss Paul Lambert.

And Atkinson believes the club could finish ahead of Liverpool - one of the Belgian’s reported suitors, according to the Telegraph - if they manage to keep hold of him.

“If Villa keep Benteke, I'd almost think they can finish higher than Liverpool, he's that good,” he said.

“There are not many Liverpool players who make Villa's starting XI. Mario Balotelli? I wouldn't have him playing for my local team. That is the worst signing I can remember anybody ever making.”

Liverpool in particular are reportedly keen to bolster their striking ranks having struggled to replace the goals of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, with the former having joined Barcelona and the latter spending most of the season on the treatment table.

Their replacements, namely the aforementioned Balotelli, have failed to take advantage of the situation as well, leading to reports of a move for the Belgian forward.

The Telegraph recently revealed he has a £32.5million buy-out clause in his contract, and Atkinson believes a number of big clubs should be interested in buying him.

“Every top club should be in for Benteke,” he added.

“Atkinson continues. 'He would be the perfect replacement for Didier Drogba at Chelsea and at Manchester City they might get rid of Edin Dzeko. Manchester United badly need a new centre forward.”

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