Liverpool's £10m bid for Gareth Barry is as ambitious as their spending will get this summer – a state of affairs which left their manager, Rafael Benitez, in the course of some ruminations on his worst season at Anfield yesterday, to highlight the financial gulf which exists between his own side and the two who will be journeying to Moscow in three weeks time.
Benitez insisted he was not preparing fans for a 19th season without the title next season by drawing the comparison. "I will do my best to be as high as possible. I want to fight to improve," he insisted. "I want next season to be in a Champions League semi-final or final." Yet much though Barry's arrival might help – conceivably in a swap deal which would see Peter Crouch and John Arne Riise heading to Villa and on-loan goalkeeper Scott Carson staying put there – it still leaves Liverpool, Fernando Torres apart, well short of the kind of heavy investment Manchester United and Chelsea have engaged in over the past few seasons.
Benitez's tortuous defence of a season which has seen him close the gap on Chelsea from 15 points, at the end of last season, to 11 now, is that his side has wound up fourth in a league which has produced the two best sides in Europe. "Not fantastic but not bad," he surmised. "Think about this season, doing the same things but beating Chelsea or winning against Manchester United here, when we lost 1-0. The mentality of the players [would be different] with those six points behind them."
But that's a very big if and Benitez seemed to accept as much when he invited an examination of Chelsea's substitutes on Wednesday. They included John Obi Mikel (£16m), Alex (£14m), Nicolas Anelka (£15m), Andrei Shevchenko (£30m) and Florent Malouda (£13.5m). Liverpool's were Ryan Babel (£11m), Peter Crouch (£7m), Jermaine Pennant (£6.7m), Lucas Leiva (£6m), Steve Finnan (£3.5m) and Sami Hyypia (£2.6m)
Barry is in the same old Anfield price bracket and even his arrival – in a move which may presage Xabi Alonso's exit to Real Madrid or Barcelona – is not as clear cut as it seems. Martin O'Neill is still keen to keep hold of Barry if at all possible – his meeting with chairman Randy Lerner next week may help formulate a new contract offer – and in a firm swipe at Liverpool yesterday he insisted that Villa were "not a feeder club". Liverpool's offer, O'Neill said, had involved "a mish-mash of nameless player exchanges" and was destabilising amid Villa's chase for a Uefa Cup place. "We've got two important games coming up. Liverpol's season might effectively be over as they have qualified for the Champions League and their interest in this season's Champions League ended a couple of nights ago," O'Neill said.
Sources close to Barry said the player was not aware of the bid and was waiting until the end of the season to consider his future. But whatever Villa's offer, the prospect of European football next season may prove irresistible, even if Liverpool do have more mountains to climb come August.