By Merseyside correspondent Cam Downes

Liverpool have opened talks with Aston Villa over a move for Christian Benteke, Football Insider sources understand.

The Merseysiders have told their Midlands counterparts they will make a bid of around £26million, well short of the £32.5million release clause in the striker’s contract.

But Villa are holding out for the full sum of the clause, which they believe is a true valuation of the Belgium international.

Benteke is one of the most in-demand targets of the summer, with Manchester United and Tottenham also closely monitoring him.

But Liverpool are increasingly hopeful of enticing the 24-year-old to Anfield, where they can offer him a key role and a lucrative salary package.

Liverpool have been the busiest Premier League club in the summer transfer window, signing seven new players, including a new forward in Danny Ings.

But Brendan Rodgers and the Anfield recruitment team want another senior striker to provide competition for Ings, Divock Origi and the injury-prone Daniel Sturridge.

Villa manager Tim Sherwood has admitted there is nothing he can do to stop Benteke leaving the club.

“There’s a buy-out clause in his contract so it will be impossible for us to stop him if he wants to go,”  Sherwood said ahead of the FA Cup final in late May. “Someone’s got to meet that buy-out clause and if they don’t it won’t be considered because we don’t want to lose him.”

As revealed by Football Insider in March, Liverpool will free up space in their squad by listening to offers for Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini this summer.

Benteke finished last season in impressive form, scoring 12 goals in Villa’s last 14 matches to end an injury-interrupted campaign with 15 goals. He was also caused the Liverpool defence huge problems in Villa’s FA Cup semi-final win at the end of the season.