Benitez retains Morientes hopes

Rafael Benitez said yesterday that he still believes he will sign the Spanish international Fernando Morientes, despite Real Madrid's new coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, having included the striker in his side ahead of Michael Owen for the match against Real Sociedad on Wednesday night.

Before the dismissal of the former coach Mariano Garcia Remon last month, Morientes looked certain to sign for Liverpool after it became clear that he had fallen to fourth place in the club's hierarchy of strikers behind Raul, Ronaldo and Owen.

However, his reinstatement to play in Real's seven-minute match against Sociedad, which completed a previous game that was abandoned because of a bomb threat, suggested that he had a future at the club under the Brazilian coach.

Benitez, who has already had a £3.5m offer for Morientes rejected said that he was confident that the player, who publicly stated that he wants to move to Liverpool, will still join. "I have read the headlines about Morientes," he said. "He played seven minutes yesterday and I don't think the situation will change because of that.

"The chairman [Florentino Perez] knows the situation and the player says he would like to go to Liverpool. I don't think they will change their minds. Morientes is an option. We are working on other possibilities, not just Morientes. Other clubs have talked to him but we are not going to get into an auction."

While Liverpool have resolved not to bid much more than £5m for Morientes, they could be in danger of losing out on the Leeds and England Under-21 goalkeeper Scott Carson, 19, who would be available for £500,000 this month. Although Benitez has said that he would favour a more experienced No 2 now that Chris Kirkland is injured for the rest of the season, it is understood that the club are still following Carson's situation closely.

Chelsea have also checked his availability and the goalkeeper was withdrawn from a Leeds reserve team game against Middlesbrough on Wednesday to ensure he did not injure himself before a potential transfer. Leeds would settle for a £500,000 fee with extra payments related to the first-team appearances made by Carson, who will be out of contract in the summer.

Liverpool are also confident that they can move on Stéphane Henchoz, who looks set to be the subject of a battle between Celtic and Rangers, this month. The Ibrox club's salary offer is still more than £10,000 a week less than the Swiss defender's deal at Liverpool and Celtic have now made a firm enquiry about his situation.

With injuries to Xabi Alonso, Djibril Cissé, Harry Kewell, Josemi, Kirkland, Vladimir Smicer and Milan Baros, Benitez has admitted that he will have to call upon some of his youngest first-team players for tonight's FA Cup third-round tie away at Burnley.

John Welsh, Zak Whitbread, David Raven and Stephen Warnock are all set to figure and the club could even recall the young striker Antony Le Tallec back from his loan spell at St Etienne over the next week. Their new defender Mauricio Pellegrino, 33, should make his debut against Watford in the League Cup on Tuesday.

Arsenal's Brazilian midfielder Edu has denied reports that he has signed a pre-contract agreement with Valencia that would allow him to move to the Spanish champions this summer.

He said: "I have not signed anything yet. I am waiting for a meeting with Arsenal to see what I am going to do in the future, after that I am going to speak to other clubs. If I was to leave, I would prefer to leave in January. It is better for me to be able to play more. If Arsenal had really wanted me to sign they should have come up with an offer six months before indicating they wanted to sign me and that's made me think."

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