Agger offers final piece in Benitez's defensive jigsaw

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez's search for a centre-half to alleviate the burden on Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia should reach a conclusion today after Liverpool agreed a £5.8m fee with Brondby for their Danish international defender Daniel Agger.

The 21-year-old arrived on Merseyside last night from Gran Canaria, where Michael Laudrup's team are on a training camp, after Liverpool improved their original offer of £5.5m for a player their manager described as "one of the best centre-halves in Denmark for 20 years". Barring any problems with his medical or over personal terms, Agger will seal his transfer to Anfield this afternoon.

Agger's arrival will end almost 12 months of frustration in the transfer market for Benitez, who had prioritised a new central defender before the close of the previous transfer window in August. Manchester United's £7.2m acquisition Nemanja Vidic was one of several Liverpool targets but, having missed out on the Serbian, they turned their attentions towards Scandinavia and a player whoplayed a key role in the 4-1 defeat of England in August.

"That match... confirmed he could play at a particularly high level," Benitez said yesterday. "We first spoke to Brondby about the player when we were in Monaco for the Super Cup final but at the time their chairman said he wasn't for sale."

One of the Spaniard's first tasks as Liverpool manager was to dispense with Stephane Henchoz and he has been fortunate that his only two remaining centre-halves, Hyypia and Carragher, have not been injured or lost form during the club's triumphant Champions' League campaign and gradual improvement this term. Though Benitez admits that his new signing "needs to improve his physical condition" he expects Agger to improve competition for places in the Liverpool defence, which has been strengthened this month by the arrival of the right-back Jan Kromkamp from Villarreal.

"Daniel will be an option for the first team within a short space of time," Benitez said. "He will put Sami and Carra under pressure for their place. This is an area where we've had no competition until now."

Benitez will now concentrate his efforts this month on signing a right winger, his one remaining target from last summer, and will listen to offers for several fringe players including Neil Mellor, who is talking with Heart of Midlothian over a £750,000 Tynecastle move.

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