Benitez makes up with Cissé

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Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez played down talk of an unexpected title challenge and of a rift with Djibril Cissé yesterday, but will still expect a declaration of intent from his £14m striker as the European champions search for a sixth consecutive League victory, against Wigan today.

The France international is in the squad to face Paul Jewell's side having been omitted from the Liverpool party that travelled to Sunderland on Wednesday. Following a show of dissent at Manchester City, where Cissé was substituted just five minutes into the second half, Benitez's decision added weight to the belief that Liverpool will seek to sell the striker in the January transfer window.

However, the manager insisted: "It would not make sense to sell Cissé in January with the European Cup still to be contested. I decided to use [Florent] Sinama-Pongolle at Sunderland because he had been training well and for tomorrow I have decided to have [Fernando] Morientes, [Peter] Crouch and Cissé because Cissé has pace and is scoring goals. When you decide not to use a key player people always talk, but it is my responsibility to use the squad properly."

Liverpool's impressive run of form has parallels with Valencia's first La Liga triumph under Benitez, when his unheralded team came up on the rails to clinch the title from Real Madrid and Barcelona. "It is too soon [to compare]," he said. "We are trying to build a big squad and a big team but we are only 70 per cent of where I want to be."

* Mark Gonzalez last night said he will finally join Liverpool in two weeks' time. The 23-year-old Chilean winger's move from Spanish side Albacete was held up when he was denied a work permit because of Chile's world ranking. However, they have now broken into the top 70 which could help his case. "I'll join Liverpool in two weeks and I'd be able to play a friendly in a month," Gonzalez said.