Chelsea have emerged as contenders in the fight to secure the £40m services of David Villa from Valencia.
After two relatively austere summers, Roman Abramovich is understood to have indicated he is ready to strengthen by attempting to bring the 27-year-old Spaniard from the cash-strapped Mestalla. Villa, who has never shown much inclination to leave his homeland and is a possible target for Barcelona and Real Madrid, said last night he intends to see out his contract, which runs to 2014. "The club trusts me and they have not told me anything about a possible sale," he said.
But Valencia's financial crisis is forcing them to sell their best players this summer and, with the future beyond this summer of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka uncertain, Abramovich's offer may be too good to resist. Manchester City were interested in January but balked at the £135m being demanded for Villa and David Silva
Tests on Steven Gerrard's troublesome groin established yesterday that he has sustained a small strain to his adductor muscle, though Liverpool may still gamble on playing him against Blackburn Rovers tomorrow and then rest him for the second leg of the Champions League tie with Chelsea, next Tuesday. If that is the course of action on Gerrard the club opt for – discussions will take place at Melwood today on the best way ahead – then it would appear to be an implicit signal that the Champions League tie against Chelsea is all but lost and that Liverpool must make keeping the heat on Manchester United in domestic competition their priority. Though Gerrard has, as yet, not been ruled out of any matches, Benitez has said that Gerrard was "clearly not as mobile as normal" on Wednesday evening, when Michael Essien marked him out of the match and the tear apparently sustained during the game is the reason. Liverpool will be anxious to resolve the groin problem as they pursue what, by Wednesday, may well be the last winnable silverware of the season. Gerrard underwent groin surgery in August and it was a torn adductor muscle in November which prompted a row between the Football Association and Liverpool, after England manager Fabio Capello doubted Liverpool's claim that he was injured and insisted he make the 400-mile round trip to the national squad's base ahead of the friendly against Germany in Berlin.
The prospect of Gerrard being less than fit is a disturbing one for Liverpool, considering how instrumental to their resurgence he and Fernando Torres have been to the club's resurgence and Torres was also "less than 100%!" on Wednesday, according to Benitez, though that appears to be down to fatigue. But if he is rested for the Champions League second leg, there would be a 10-day window for recuperation, with no game for Liverpool on FA Cup semi-final weekend, until the crunch league toe with Arsenal at Anfield on 21 April.
Liverpool's Pepe Reina did not contribute much optimism when he put his side's chances of progressing, next Tueday, at a mere 15%. "I would say it is more or less 85-15 against us qualifying now," said Reina.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have renewed belief in the wake of Wednesday night that they can win the title. "Everything is still up for grabs," Frank Lampard said yesterday. "Who knows what can happen in the league, FA Cup and the Champions League?" Sir Alex Ferguson's suggestion that the winners of the Chelsea/Liverpool tie will be United's main obstacle met short shrift from Reina. "I'm not interested in anything Ferguson says," he declared.