Mascherano moves closer to Liverpool deal

Contract talks with Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano are edging closer to a resolution but manager Rafael Benitez accepts there is still a little more work to do.

The two parties have been talking over a new deal for the Argentina captain for some time and Benitez is confident the matter will be resolved to both their satisfaction.

Mascherano, whose current contract still has nearly two years to run, was a target for Barcelona last summer and Liverpool are keen to tie him to a new long-term contract to prevent another close season of speculation, especially in a World Cup year.

Spain goalkeeper Jose Reina will sign his new deal in the next three weeks to join the likes of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and Daniel Agger in committing their future to the Reds.

"We were talking, progressing and we're closer now. Still we need to talk a little bit but we are closer," said Benitez.

"It would be very important for the club. We have some important players with some years left on their contracts and this could be another one. It's very important that we're keeping the spine of the team.

"Every fan knows he's a very important player for us, a key player who's good for team spirit. He's an example for a lot of players.

"He shows every game his commitment, desire and passion. He has great character, but he can also play. He's a player every manager would like to have in their team."

Less clear is the future of winger Albert Riera, who last week was suspended for his outspoken comments about Benitez and the club, which he described as a "sinking ship".

Riera will be further disciplined - in the form of a fine - by the club later this week when he returns to training.

But such was Benitez's anger at the content and timing of the Spain international's remarks - coming on the eve of the crucial Europa League last-16 second tie at home to Lille - there is still a possibility the player could be hastily jettisoned.

Riera, who has a Russian wife, has been linked with a move to CSKA Moscow and also Spartak Moscow as the Russian league's transfer window does not close until next month.

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