Mascherano close to Rafa reunion as Inter prepare £20m offer
INTER MILAN are believed to be ready to table a formal opening offer of more than £20m for Javier Mascherano, who will miss tomorrow's money-spinning friendly with Borussia Monchengladbach.
Roy Hodgson, the Liverpool manager, is already thought to have drawn up a list of possible replacements for the midfielder, who told him last week that he wanted to leave. Standard Liege's Steven Defour and Christian Poulsen, Juventus' Denmark international, are the leading contenders.
Despite omitting many of his most valuable assets for Thursday night's simple 2-0 Europa League victory over FK Rabotnicki, Hodgson will hand Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson and Jamie Carragher an hour apiece in a friendly for which Liverpool stand to receive as much as £1m in Germany.
Mascherano, however, will not be there despite Hodgson insisting this week that he would continue to regard the 26-year-old as a Liverpool player until his exit was formally concluded.
That the former West Ham midfielder, who has made no secret of his desire to rejoin former manager Rafael Benitez, will be absent suggests his departure is imminent.
Inter will present Liverpool with a first bid for the player as soon as the sales of Brazil full-back Maicon, to Real Madrid, and Mario Balotelli, to Manchester City, are complete. Informal talks have already opened between the Serie A and Premier League sides, though Liverpool are likely to hold out for around £25m for one of their crown jewels.
Hodgson insisted after victory in Skopje that he did not believe his squad required a "major overhaul", suggesting that just "one or two" further arrivals would suffice, but the former Fulham manager's need to replace Mascherano -- as well as Liverpool's deficiencies at left-back, where Paul Konchesky and Maynor Figueroa are thought to be targets, and in attack -- indicates that estimate may be conservative.
In the case of Mascherano, Hodgson at least had plenty of warning to draw up a short-list of targets in the event of his departure. The Argentine's confession that he had started learning Italian and his admission that he shared Benitez's vision of football, as well as the statements suggesting his family had not settled on Merseyside, made it clear he did not intend to remain. Together with his agent Walter Tamer, he informed Hodgson upon his return to training last Monday that he wished to leave.
Liverpool hope to conclude a sale within a week. That will allow Hodgson time to assess his options, which are believed to include a £9m move for Defour, the Standard captain who has been linked with Manchester United and Everton in recent years, and Poulsen, a player he knows well from his time at FC Copenhagen.
Liverpool are yet to make formal contact with Standard -- from whom they signed Milan Jovanovic on a free transfer this month -- but Hodgson is known to be an admirer of the player. Axel Witsel, the 22-year-old's clubmate, is also believed to be under consideration. Liege, absent from Europe this year, are resigned to losing both players.
Poulsen, meanwhile, has been deemed surplus to requirements by the new Juventus manager Luigi Delneri, and the club's technical director Beppe Marotta yesterday confirmed Liverpool's interest. The 30-year-old, who helped Hodgson win the 2001 title in his homeland, would cost around £4m.
Though Poulsen would be a more like-for-like replacement for Mascherano than the all-action Defour, there is no pressing need for Hodgson to look for a player cast in the Argentine's mould, according to one player who will remain at Anfield this season, Lucas Leiva.
"Of course we all hope Javier stays because he is such a good player, but we'll have to wait and see over that," Lucas said. "I'm not the same player as Javier, we have different styles, but I am ready to play and to impress."
"I think I did well last season but I think in this one I can do even better wherever I play. I know I am able to play the role Javier does. I know I can do it if that is what the manager wants."
Monchengladbach v Liverpool, live, Setanta Irl, tomorrow, 1.0
(© Daily Telegraph, London)