Benitez hot on the trail of Aquilani

Liverpool line up Roma midfielder as Alonso lodges formal plea for Real move

The Roma and Italy midfielder Alberto Aquilani is Liverpool's primary target as the departure of Xabi Alonso became ever more inevitable yesterday. The Spanish midfielder raised the stakes in his battle to leave the club by formally requesting a transfer to Real Madrid, who have pursued him all summer.

Aquilani, 25, has been a long-term target for manager Rafael Benitez, who has been given encouragement that the player, one of Roma's three home-grown stars along with Francisco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, may become available this summer. He would not be cheap but should cost less than the £30m that Liverpool want for Alonso.

Benitez's hard-line stance on Alonso – that the player is contracted to the club until 2012 and will not be allowed to leave – should soften if a deal can be done with Roma for Aquilani.

Alonso, 27, trained with Liverpool yesterday but all summer has avoided giving any public assurances that he is prepared to stay at the club. Florentino Perez, the Madrid president, has offered around £24m for the player and is expected now to raise his bid to £30m to prise him away from the club.

In the pursuit of Aquilani, the volatile financial position at Roma has made the club difficult to deal with and they are fearful of the repercussions from their supporters if they sell one of the best players in their squad. Accordingly, Alonso will also have to wait to leave until Benitez can guarantee that the signing of Aquilani is a genuine possibility.

There have been enquiries from Liverpool about Lee Cattermole, as reported in The Independent last month, but the Wigan midfielder is still much further down the list of players in whom Benitez has a real interest. In Aquilani, an Italy international, he has a player capable of fulfilling the crucial linking role between defence and attack that Alonso has performed since joining from Real Sociedad five years ago.

Roma are currently in a crisis over the future of the club after a proposed takeover by the agent Vinicio Fioranelli, who was representing a Swiss conglomerate, collapsed last month. He was to have paid £166m for the Sensi family's controlling 67 per cent stake, but since that deal broke down, the Sensi family have found themselves under investigation by regulators of Italy's financial markets.

Efforts are being made to sell some of the team, who finished sixth in Serie A last season and beat Chelsea 3-1 at home in the Champions League in November. The club have suggested that the striker Mirko Vicunic, who scored twice against Chelsea that night, and the defender Phillipe Mexes could be allowed to leave, but parting with De Rossi or Aquilani would be deeply unpopular with fans.

The departure of Alonso has demonstrated that – like Manchester United – Liverpool are also vulnerable to the finance and power of Perez's new regime. Alonso was formerly one of Benitez's most loyal players, but relations with the manager began to break down in the 2007-08 season when Alonso asked for time to off to attend the birth of his first child.

He changed his mind at the last minute and made himself available to play against Internazionale in the Champions League first knockout round in March 2008. Benitez decided to leave him behind anyway and dismissed the possibility of the player joining up with the squad later. Last summer Benitez tried to sell him to Juventus to raise the money to buy Gareth Barry from Aston Villa.

Nevertheless, the loss of one of the players who used to be teased by his Liverpool team-mates that he was "son of Rafa", so close was he perceived to be to his manager, is still a significant blow. Despite nearly leaving for Juventus and Arsenal last summer, Alonso showed some of his best form at Anfield last season.

The £3.5m deal to take Alvaro Arbeloa from Liverpool to Real Madrid was completed yesterday. However, Benitez has not yet got rid of disastrous Italian left-back Andrea Dossena, who is the subject of a £4m bid from Napoli.

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