Rafa’s squad starts to return

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has had more players than normal to work with during international week, although most of that has probably been off the training pitch rather than on it. Record signing Fernando Torres came home early from his international duty with Spain, after suffering an injury to an adductor muscle. The £18m man has since been undergoing intensive treatment and could be fit for the derby this weekend.

Not only are players returning from injury, but already some of his squad are returning from international duties.

Rafa wouldn’t say whether he thought Torres would actually play against the team from across Stanley Park when asked yesterday: “He is much better and improving, at the moment though it is too early to say anything about the weekend. It’s always a risk when a player has an injury and we have to be careful. He is back with us now and working with the physios.”

Fellow striker Dirk Kuyt also left his country’s squad early through injury, but the Dutch star took part in the warm-up yesterday. Also taking part in the warm-up was a player who has had an Anfield career blighted by injury – Harry Kewell. Rafa thinks Dirk could make the derby, but suggested it may be too early for Harry: “Dirk did the warm-up this morning with us and hopefully he’ll be okay for the Everton game. The news with Harry is very positive as he did the warm up as well. For him, though, it’s too early to talk about the weekend.”

Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger are both making good progress with their metatarsal injuries, and although Agger has still not managed any work outside of the gym, Alonso has been able to do some running outside. Xabi told the official LFC website: “I am progressing. In the last few days I have started running on the pitch, which is good news because I’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym. It’s always a relief to get back exercising on the pitch and at the moment it’s looking good, but I don’t know if I will be fit enough to be ready for the derby.”

Asked if the prospect of playing in the derby was giving him an extra incentive he said that as much as he wants to be back playing as soon as he can, he doesn’t want to take any unnecessary risks: “The fact it’s the derby doesn’t make me more determined – I’m always determined to recover as quickly as possible. I want to be back as soon as possible but I have to respect my foot. I have to see how it feels.”

One boost for Rafa Benitez came in the shape of Israel captain Yossi Benayoun. Yossi has been on duty with his country, but they were only training this week as they had no international fixture. Their chances of qualifying for Euro 2008 came to an end at the weekend when they were beaten by Croatia, and his national boss allowed him to return early to Merseyside to prepare for the game at the weekend.

Captain Steven Gerrard looks likely to captain England tonight in a game they must win to be sure of qualification for Euro 2008.

Another player now free to make his way home is Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano,  who played in stifling heat in the early hours of this morning UK time as Argentina beat Venezuela 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier. Mascherano said the players tried to conserve their energy: “We tried to not wear ourselves out too much, we were clever. It was very difficult because the pitch was in an awful state and the heat was unbearable, but not all teams have Messi, Juan Roman Riquelme and Carlos Tevez. They make the difference.”