Liverpool to thrust Morientes into fray

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The Independent Football

Fernando Morientes will be presented as a Liverpool player at lunchtime today - and is likely to make his debut against Manchester United tomorrow. The 28-year-old striker, signed for £6.3m from Real Madrid, passed a medical and agreed a three-and-a-half year contract at Anfield. The Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez confirmed that he is prepared to thrust the Spanish international straight into the side to face United "if necessary".

Morientes and his family were flown out of Madrid by a private jet chartered by Liverpool on Wednesday evening to end a quest to land the player which began when Benitez sold Michael Owen last summer. "He is important to us," Benitez said of Morientes. "He is good in the air, he is a good finisher and can shoot with both feet."

Following the Spaniard's arrival, Sheffield United have rekindled their interest in the striker Neil Mellor. At the same time the Liverpool defender Stéphane Henchoz is weighing up offers from Rangers, Celtic, Bolton Wanderers, Southampton and Feyenoord.

The only disappointment for Liverpool is that Morientes is ineligible for the Champions' League, having already played for Madrid. The striker described his move - which will cost Liverpool an initial £5.5m rising to the full asking price depending on appearances - as the "biggest decision of my football life".

Madrid's new coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, said he had wanted Morientes to stay, but added: "It was something which was in the air before I arrived." The club is likely to recall the striker Javier Portillo, on loan to Fiorentina but, crucially, failed to persuade Liverpool to allow them first option to sign Steven Gerrard, should he become available. The best they could achieve was a verbal agreement to be kept informed.

The Spanish club's interest in another Merseyside midfielder, Thomas Gravesen, continued yesterday, and Real look set to make a £1.3m bid for the Dane today after agreeing a pre-contract agreement with the Everton midfielder. Everton, however, made it clear they were prepared to make Real wait until the end of the season unless a suitable transfer fee is agreed. Everton want at least £2m for Gravesen, who is out of contract this summer.

John Sivebaek, the 28-year-old Dane's agent, agreed personal terms for a four-and-a-half year deal with Madrid on Wednesday. But they have not yet faxed an offer to Everton.

The Everton manager David Moyes made it clear yesterday that he was not keen to do a deal, especially as he knows that Gravesen's presence is crucial in his campaign to qualify for the Champions' League. "There has still been no contact and we are not interested in receiving any contact," Moyes said yesterday.

Moyes is making contingency plans. He is weighing up making a bid for Sheffield United's Michael Tonge and is also considering Fulham's Steed Malbranque and Tottenham's Simon Davies. A summer target remains Celtic's Stilian Petrov, while Moyes will continue to monitor the Chelsea pair of Scott Parker and Joe Cole.