Lucas set to join Mascherano on Olympic break

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Rafael Benitez's preparations for next season have hit trouble even before the current one is out of the way, as Lucas has joined Javier Mascherano among those who intend to miss the start of the new campaign to play at the Beijing Olympics.

Benitez, not the most tolerant when international duties loom, reserved his sharpest sarcasm for Mascherano's 5,000-mile round-trip to play for Argentina in Egypt in March. "I'm really, really happy he's going," he said. A substantial section of his midfield will be missing if Brazilian Lucas and Mascherano play in the Olympic tournament which runs from 8-24 August. Both would also have to take part in training camps for a fortnight before the Olympics begin.

With cause for concern about the players he has got, the Barcelona left-back Eric Abidal has emerged as Liverpool's possible replacement for John Arne Riise. Benitez had the France international watched in Barcelona's 6-0 win over Valencia on Sunday. The Champions League semi-final matches with Manchester United provided the club with further opportunity to scrutinise a player expected to cost £8m – though he was far from his best in either leg.

The defender, capped 32 times, only arrived in Barcelona last summer after four seasons with Lyons but Riise's future at Anfield seems over after he revealed his anger at the way Liverpool included him in a cash/swap deal to secure Gareth Barry's services from Aston Villa next season. "I feel that I could have heard something since I've been here for seven years, won everything we have won and played all the time," Riise said.

Benitez is already pursuing free transfer signing Philipp Degen from Borussia Dortmund, to play at right-back, but the opposite side of defence has room for reinforcement.

The Argentina teenager Emiliano Insua made his Anfield debut in that role against Manchester City last Sunday, but a more established player will be needed as Liverpool try to close the gap on the Premier League's top three.

Meanwhile, the club's third stadium plan, a £350m proposal for a 60,000-seater ground in Stanley Park, was given the go-ahead at Liverpool Town Hall yesterday.

It is the third time in five years the council has backed a stadium scheme from the club, but it is still unclear when work will start, with co-owner Tom Hicks said to be seeking new financing to buy out his partner George Gillett.

The new scheme includes a smaller underground car park beneath the stadium and a reduced overall height.

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