Liverpool bid to tie down Mascherano
LIVERPOOL are set to offer Javier Mascherano a two-year contract extension that would keep him at Anfield until 2014, as they try to stop him going to Barcelona.
Mascherano has been the subject of long-standing interest from the Spanish and European champions; last year, Barca manager Pep Guardiola identified the Argentina captain as the perfect foil for his attacking midfield duo, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
In keeping with his policy of tying up key players to long-term deals, Reds boss Rafael Benitez wants Mascherano to follow in the footsteps of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Daniel Agger and Yossi Benayoun, who have all signed contract extensions in the past 12 months.
Preliminary talks have been held with Mascherano's representatives and Liverpool are hopeful that the 25-year-old will sign an extension to his present deal, which expires in February 2012.
Negotiations are also continuing with goalkeeper Pepe Reina, who is out of contract at the end of the 2011/2012 season.
It is the immediate future of Torres that is of most concern at Anfield, however. The forward, who started a game for the first time in six weeks against Blackburn on Sunday after an injury to his right knee, joined up with the Spain squad before tomorrow night's friendly against France in Paris.
Torres is so important to Liverpool's bid to finish fourth that Jamie Carragher is praying that his team-mate returns from international duty fully fit.
"It goes without saying how much we have missed him," Carragher said. "He is still our top scorer, the kind of special player who will make a difference. It would be wrong to rely on just one man. After all, you never know, he could come back injured off international duty.
"Please God, that doesn't happen, but he makes a big difference and you can see we are a much better team when he is with us."
Despite Liverpool's concerns for Torres' welfare, the player himself is keen to get as much match practice as he can and believes that his club manager will understand his reasons for wanting to play for his country.
"Rafa has enough to deal with with what he's got," Torres said. "It's normal that he's thinking about his interests, but he knows that all the players want to go to the national team.
"Luckily, I recovered in time. To be in the national squad is a prize for me. I'm ready for as much as the coach thinks is right." (© The Times, London)