Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has backed misfiring striker Christian Benteke to rediscover his goal touch in time for his return to Aston Villa on Sunday.
Benteke is badly out of form as he prepares for his first appearance at Villa Park since leaving for Liverpool in a £32.5 million (41.9m euros; $47m) transfer last July.
The Belgium striker missed a series of inviting chances against West Ham United in the Reds’ midweek FA Cup fourth-round replay defeat and his dismal run without a goal has now extended to 11 matches.
However, Klopp seems to be encouraged by Benteke’s recent form and the German hopes his forward is on the verge of going on a scoring streak.
“I saw really good signs at West Ham. It is not the easiest period of his career but the number of opportunities he is getting is a good sign,” Klopp said.
“If he had no opportunities, it would be a much bigger problem. I talked to him a few times and gave him some advice as a human being and a coach and he has really tried to come back to an easy moment.
“There are worse situations in the world –- even in the world of football -– so we have to carry on and he has to carry on.”
As Benteke flounders, Roberto Firmino has emerged as Liverpool’s likeliest source of goals lately, earning the Professional Footballers’ Association’s player of the month award for January thanks to a run of form that has brought him five goals in his last six matches.
While Klopp was disappointed with Liverpool’s exit from the FA Cup, it does at least mean a likely easing of the fixture congestion that forced his team to play nine matches in January.
Liverpool will still play a total of seven games during February, but their injury worries are starting to ease as they prepare for the trip to bottom-of-the-table Villa this weekend.
The most significant recovery is that of striker Daniel Sturridge, who played for 61 minutes at Upton Park on Tuesday as he made his first appearance since December 6.
England international Sturridge has made just 10 league starts since the beginning of last season after being troubled by hip, calf, thigh and hamstring problems; his availability is just what Liverpool need as Benteke continues to struggle.
Along with Sturridge, striker Divock Origi and playmaker Philippe Coutinho made their returns from injury at West Ham, but defender Dejan Lovren and midfielder Joe Allen remain out with hamstring problems.
Liverpool have won just once in their last six league games, while Villa collected just their third win of the season against Norwich City last time out.
Villa manager Remi Garde, however, is reluctant to read anything into the struggles of either Liverpool or Benteke.
“I’m not too comfortable with teams that are not in a good mood because they will wake up, especially a club like that; especially a team with threatening players up front,” Garde said.
“They have the choice; they have the quality; they have the quantity up front.
“We know that it is going to be difficult. It’s up to us to leave them in the mood that they are in the moment.
“I don’t know Christian personally, but I know that he is a tremendous goalscorer. He has been in this position last season and probably helped Aston Villa a lot to be safe.
“When you play for a new team it is always difficult to settle in. I just know that he’s threatening players if he is playing, anywhere and anyhow when he’s been playing well or not in previous weeks.
“I know that when you’re back at the club you played for for a long time it’s something special for players.
“We will have to be careful and aware of about him.”