Benitez faced with defensive crisis

Liverpool manager needs to buy after Carragher scare highlights lack of cover
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The Independent Online

Liverpool may have avoided one pre-season catastrophe with the news that Jamie Carragher emerged from Saturday's friendly defeat to Atletico Madrid with only a minor twist to his ankle but the current state of the club's defence could have far wider implications for their manager, Rafa Benitez.

Having endured most of the 2-1 reverse at Anfield with a pairing of youngsters, Danny Ayala and Mikel San Jose Dominguez, in the heart of the back four, Benitez knows the need to recruit defensive cover is greater than ever.

Carragher, he insists, will be fit for Liverpool's opening game of the Premier League season at Tottenham on Sunday. So, too, according to the manager, will be two of three injured defenders Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Fabio Aurelio. But, when Carragher limped off as a precaution after 14 minutes, the prospect of facing Peter Crouch, Robbie Keane and Tottenham with a novice defence was all too real.

Michael Turner, about whom Benitez has already held talks with his Hull City counterpart Phil Brown, and the Portsmouth veteran Sylvain Distin have both been mentioned as potential targets this week, with the Liverpool manager clearly keen to strengthen his squad in that area.

The broader question, as the club seek to end their miserable 20-year wait for a league title, is whether Benitez will be given money to spend by American owners whose financial problems have cast a cloud over the club almost since the day they took over at Anfield.

"It is something I have to talk with the club about," said Benitez when asked if funds were available, money which he has generated himself from summer sales which include Xabi Alonso's £30m departure to Real Madrid.

"We have some ideas and we have to discuss these ideas. We will see. We are talking about these things. We are working always. We try to be ready just in case [we can sign someone], but you never know. It depends on the prices.

"We have to work with the players we have at this moment and keep working with the scouting department. The main thing for me is we have one week to work and prepare the players."

It was hardly a positive rejoinder to the claims last week from Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson that he does not expect Liverpool to provide the most serious challenge to his club's title defence.

"We had some money but I will not talk about figures," added Benitez when pressed further. "On the record or off the record when you talk about figures I think it is clear. I will not say anything. I don't have the answer.

"We are working hard with the players we have and the money we have. Always it is difficult to compete in the Premier League with clubs who have more money."

Especially if, as seems at least a possibility, Benitez has zero money to spend in the transfer market this week.

The Spaniard's main foray into that market this summer, the £20m acquisition of the Roma midfielder Alberto Aquilani, who is seen as the direct replacement for Alonso, has not been without issues.

Aquilani is coming off three seasons that have been largely disrupted by injury and, indeed, will be unavailable until October as he recovers from ankle surgery. Any impact the Italy international is to have on the title race will, at best, be delayed.

In his absence, the much-maligned Brazilian Lucas Leiva looked quietly assured against Atletico, scoring Liverpool's late consolation goal and suggesting that he is poised to improve upon a largely forgettable start to his Anfield career.

"Sometimes I hear things said about me but, to be honest, I don't care too much," Lucas said. "I only care about the team and the squad.

"Now I have to focus on the forthcoming season and continue to work hard and improve. I will try to prove I have the quality to be in the team and, hopefully, help Liverpool win the title."

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