Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane says the European champions are interested in Liverpool youngster Raheem Sterling.
Zidane, manager of Madrid's B-team and tipped to replace Carlo Ancelotti in the top job, is quoted as saying the European champions are watching the England winger, who is stalling on a new Anfield deal.
The extent of the interest is unclear, Zidane suggesting that Sterling is "monitored" in the way of any young player, but the timing of his remarks are significant given the contract impasse.
"We know who Raheem Sterling is, and of course we are monitoring him as a player," Zidane is quoted as saying. "There are very few players in the world who can improve the Real Madrid squad, so it is going to make sense we monitor the progress of the best young players in the world.
"We monitored Bale for over a year, the same with Isco and also Varane.
"We monitor many of the best young players in Europe, then if we feel they have something to offer Real Madrid we will contact their club and try and make the next step."
Sterling said last week he dreamed of playing "somewhere sunny" as he considers his options at the end of the season. Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have all been linked with bids, but with two years left on his current £35,000-a-week deal, Liverpool have made it clear they will not sell.
A bid of £50m this summer would get the club's attention, however, and if Madrid are genuinely interested it can only add value to a possible sale.
Brendan Rodgers has already said that Sterling will not be sold this summer but yesterday the Liverpool manager defended his decision to select Kolo Toure ahead of £20m signing Dejan Lovren, raising questions about the Croatian's determination to force his way back into the Liverpool side.
Rodgers said that Toure was the preferred choice against Arsenal at the weekend because of his daily application in training, ensuring he could be trusted to give his all.
There was no direct criticism of Lovren, but the hint was clear as it is evident that the experienced Toure - roundly criticised for his performance in the 4-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium - has been considered more worthy of inclusion.
"The thing with Kolo is he gives me everything every single day, so I know what I am going to get with him," Rodgers said. "Dejan was someone who was out over the international break, now he is fighting well and looking strong. He will be in contention for the cup game for sure."
Lovren's chances of returning against Blackburn Rovers for the FA Cup sixth-round replay tomorrow are more a consequence of necessity than choice. Martin Skrtel and Emre Can are suspended, so if Rodgers wants to persist with his favoured 3-4-3 formation he must choose between Lovren and Glen Johnson.
Liverpool head to Ewood Park with Rodgers facing familiar questions about the quality of the club's recruits, Lovren's deal being by no means the only one under scrutiny.
Mario Balotelli, a £16m buy, has also contributed little. Adam Lallana, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic have enjoyed promising performances but have not been consistent. Rickie Lambert has been barely used and full-back Javier Manquillo has become a deputy rather than starter.
Only Can's debut campaign will be considered a success.
"You bring players in with all the intentions of them doing well," Rodgers said. "What you cannot vouch for is when you come into a club of this size how long that adaptation process is going to take.
"You can be a very good player and not hit it off for some reason or it just takes time, like Lucas Leiva. These players need time and you don't get that in modern football.
"In the transfer market there are always going to be some players that work for you and some that don't.
"We had a big influx of players last summer so it was always going to be difficult for them all to hit it off straight away but I think you can see the progress that has been made."
Progress in the FA Cup has taken on extra significance following back-to-back defeats in the Premier League.
Two weeks ago Rodgers was fending off questions about interest from Manchester City. He arrived at Melwood yesterday morning confronted with the idea of a 'crisis' after setbacks against Manchester United and Arsenal made the pursuit of the top four look forlorn.
But there was no concession speech.
"It is certainly not the mindset or attitude we want here at the club," he said of the race for the top four.
"We have to fight to get in there, and whatever the barriers are in front of us, whether it is finance, whatever, of other clubs, we have to do everything we can to break that barrier. We recovered the season in that mid-section and now we have to fight until the very end."
One of the problems for Rodgers is that the fluency of his side has not been the same when Daniel Sturridge plays in a 3-4-3, the forward's most impressive performances coming with a strike partner.
That explains why Raheem Sterling was preferred at the Emirates Stadium, but the loss of other personnel showed.
Rodgers said: "We are still trying to find solutions at the top end of the field. Our top goal-scorer is on six goals - three players on six goals - so we have to find solutions for that.
"When everyone is fit and available we are able to compete with this squad." (© Daily Telegraph, London)