By Manchester correspondent Alex Stevens

Manchester United are ready to fight Liverpool for the signing of Christian Benteke, Football Insider sources understand.

Louis van Gaal’s team are in the market for a centre-forward after releasing Radamel Falcao and giving Robin van Persie permission to discuss terms with Fenerbahce.

United are keeping close tabs on Benteke and are prepared to rival Liverpool for the player as they step up plans to strengthen their squad.

Van Gaal wants to sign two proven strikers if Van Persie follows Falcao out of the Old Trafford exit door.

Benteke has emerged as a realistic target even though Liverpool are favourites to capture the Belgium international after opening talks with Aston Villa over a summer deal.

But 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.

Villa are holding out for the full sum of the clause and could use United’s growing interest to negotiate a fee which they believe is a true valuation of the Belgium international.

As revealed by Football Insider, United will spend big in the summer transfer window, as they follow up their record spree last summer with what is expected to be an even bigger spend.

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.”

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.