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Rafa no closer to filling Torres gap

FERNANDO Torres has undergone keyhole surgery on the knee the striker injured during Liverpool's FA Cup defeat by Reading last Wednesday. The operation took place in Barcelona on Saturday and is understood to have been a complete success.

Torres is expected to be out of action for up to six weeks, which has prompted Rafael Benitez to try to sign Kenwyne Jones, the Sunderland forward, on a temporary basis.

One option that was explored was a swap in which Ryan Babel would move to Sunderland in a loan exchange deal. Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager, was not keen on that idea, though.

Babel's unhappiness at being left out of the Liverpool squad for Saturday's match away to Stoke City was made public by the Holland forward on Twitter, the micro-blogging website, on Friday.

Yesterday the 23-year-old held talks with Benitez, only for a misunderstanding to prompt Babel to storm out of Melwood, Liverpool's training ground. He eventually returned and took part in training.

Babel is understood to be unimpressed that phone calls about his future from his agent, Winnie Haatrecht, were not initially returned by Eduardo Macia, Liverpool's chief scout.

Meanwhile, Benitez has appealed for the Premier League and Professional Game Match Officials to look into the performance of Lee Mason, the referee who denied Liverpool two possible penalties in the 1-1 draw against Stoke. Mason has sent off Jamie Carragher and Philipp Degen away to Fulham and Javier Mascherano away to Portsmouth this season.

The Liverpool manager refused to criticise the official publicly but he made clear his belief that those who appoint and assess referees must take responsibility for their actions. "We should have had two penalties that could have changed everything," Benitez said. "The first penalty, Lucas (Leiva) went down early but it was a foul and a penalty, and the second one (again on Lucas Leiva) was a clear penalty.

"I don't think you can change too many things, even if you do say anything. They have people who are in charge and they have to decide when they have seen the performance of the referee. It's like me dealing with a player. If a player makes a mistake, then you put the player on the bench."


Fabio Aurelio, the defender, said: "We mentioned before the game that we just had to let the referee do his job and not speak to him because he has not been very good for us in the past. In the end, we had to push him on things because we could see a lot of decisions that should have been in our favour."

Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, had his own cause for complaint about Mason, highlighting the award of the free-kick that led to Liverpool's goal for a foul by Danny Higginbotham on Degen as a mistake, in his eyes, by the referee.

"Rafa's the manager of Liverpool and the way he sees things will be biased towards Liverpool," Pulis said. "I see things that are biased towards Stoke and I don't think the free-kick for their goal was a free-kick."

┬ęThe Times, London