Liverpool last night rejected a transfer request from their Spanish striker Fernando Torres as Chelsea prepared to break the British record in a bid to bring him to Stamford Bridge.
The Anfield club's move is unlikely to deter Chelsea, however, as they know that Torres is keen to leave Merseyside.
The Premier League champions – who will offer Daniel Sturridge as a potential makeweight in the deal – have already seen two offers for the Spaniard turned down by the Liverpool board, but they are hopeful their third attempt of around £38m will be successful, particularly as Ajax yesterday accepted Liverpool's offer of £22.8m for Luis Suarez.
The Anfield club had hoped the Uruguayan striker Suarez would be a partner for Torres, but it looks likely that he will instead be the World Cup winner's replacement.
The Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, believes he can lure Torres to Stamford Bridge in the next three days despite Liverpool's intransigence because of Torres' desire to leave.
Chelsea first offered £28m earlier this week and then £35m but they were rebuffed by Liverpool who are keen to hold on to Torres, particularly with new manager Kenny Dalglish having only been in the job for a matter of weeks. Torres was unsettled in the summer but was talked into staying by the then managing director Christian Purslow. However, he now feels some assurances given to him at the time have been broken and he has informed the club's owner, the Fenway Sports Group, that he would like them to agree terms with Chelsea.
Representatives from Chelsea believe there is a good chance a deal will be struck, even though Liverpool are saying Torres is not for sale. Chelsea are prepared to offer striker Sturridge, valued at £5m, in part exchange. Liverpool enquired about taking the England under-21 striker on loan to Anfield in December, although that was before previous manager Roy Hodgson was sacked.
At the time Chelsea ruled out the deal, but are willing to use the 21-year-old as part of the Torres transfer. Abramovich is prepared to offer Torres a basic £160,000-a-week salary, plus bonuses and a substantial signing-on fee. Torres moved to Liverpool from Atletico Madrid in July 2007 for £23m, and has scored 81 goals in 142 appearances for the club.
Should the deal come off, it would break the British transfer record of £32.5m set when Manchester City signed the Brazilian Robinho from Real Madrid in August 2008.
It would also be by far the most stunning transfer of the eight years that Abramovich has been ruling the roost in SW6. At 26, Torres is in his prime and would be eligible to play in the Champions League. His first game for his new club could potentially be when Liverpool visit Stamford Bridge next weekend.
Chelsea's interest in Torres comes after the club suffered the worst run of results in more than a decade. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has said that his squad is strong enough to recover, but in private sources say he has been championing the need to strengthen.
The club have already lost out on £3m midfielder Steven Pienaar, who chose Tottenham over the defending champions when he moved from Everton, and are in danger of missing out on defender David Luiz, as negotiations with Benfica over the Brazilian's move to London have proved to be a long, drawn-out affair.
Chelsea are still confident of signing Luiz, despite claims from the Portuguese club that negotiations have broken down. Sources say Chelsea have offered £28m for the 23-year-old centre-half, who has recently broken into the Brazil team, but Benfica are demanding a further £4m to cover development fees to Luiz's former club Victoria da Bahia and commissions to the agents involved.
Benfica issued a statement on their website yesterday which read: "Negotiations between Benfica and Chelsea, with a view to the possible transfer of David Luiz, were concluded today without the parties having reached an agreement. Contrary to reports, David Luiz never tried to force his way out of the club and is a model professional."
Chelsea nevertheless seemed optimistic a deal could still be concluded before the window closes. It would be a remarkable piece of business if they could land both Torres and Luiz for a total of more than £60m in the next three days.
Ancelotti said yesterday that he is delighted the club is attempting to recruit such talents. In a sometimes tetchy press conference, Ancelotti was clearly uncomfortable fielding so many queries about Chelsea's moves in the transfer market. He wanted to talk about today's FA Cup fourth round tie at Everton, but the questions were all about Torres.
"The club is doing a fantastic job in this transfer market," he said. "It is not desperation. If we didn't buy, the squad would be good enough. We have fantastic strikers and midfielders also. We are looking not just for this season but for the future of the club."
Ancelotti added that he was sure he could fit Torres into his attack alongside Didier Drogba, even if it might upset Nicolas Anelka. "Drogba can play with anybody, including Torres. He doesn't have a problem. He has to play in front. But the pitch is wide," he said. "I don't have to say anything to Didier and Nicolas."
Liverpool hope the news that they have concluded a deal with Ajax for Suarez may convince Torres to stay. The 24-year-old Uruguayan will join next week subject to agreeing personal terms and passing a medical.
Liverpool initially offered £12.8m but after further negotiations involving Damien Comolli, Liverpool's director of football strategy, and the Ajax general manager, Rik van den Boog, in Amsterdam yesterday a deal was struck.