More Crouch speculation and Mascherano deal likely

With Christmas lights being switched on in shopping centres around the country, it’s a sure sign the transfer window is looming. It’s also an international break, so a good opportunity for speculation to begin. That’s when stories are written based on working out who might be unhappy at a club, and which clubs have gaps in those positions.

From Liverpool there is always going to be lots of material whilst Rafael Benitez is in charge. His rotation policy has upset some players in the past, and no doubt will continue to do so in the future. Players arrive either happy with the idea of the rotation system, or thinking that they’ll be somehow able to stop Rafa from using it. The latter usually sees that player moving on.

Benitez wasn’t given anything like the budget he had expected in the summer after first speaking to the new owners after they had taken over the club. He did however have some money left over, which he was going to use on buying Gabriel Heinze for a fee Manchester United had agreed they’d sell him for. But they didn’t want to sell to Liverpool, and some familiar faces on the panel deciding if United’s fax agreeing for him to be sold at a set price decided United may have said one thing but meant another and so let them get out of their agreement. Heinze went to Real Madrid, Liverpool were accused of tapping up by United, who said they were going to do an investigation into Liverpool. We’re still waiting for that investigation to reveal its findings.

Liverpool have managed without Heinze so far this season, but injuries to Jamie Carragher and a longer one to Daniel Agger mean that Sami Hyypia has played more games than expected. Sami has done a good job, as he always has for the Reds, but is clearly coming to the end of his Liverpool days. Jack Hobbs is next in line to step into the position, but despite high hopes for him for the future, Rafa would rather not have to rely on him as cover just yet. This has seen Liverpool linked with 21-year-old Santander centre-half Ezequiel Garay, who is said to be available for £10m thanks to one of those good-old buy-out clauses. Liverpool Echo write Tony Barrett insisted last week that despite Liverpool having had the Argentinean player scouted, the club were not about to make a bid for him.

One signing Liverpool really must ensure they make is Javier Mascherano. Liverpool acquired his services on a loan initially, as a way of getting round the mess that West Ham had made of his signing in the first place. That loan runs out at the end of the season so Liverpool must make a deal with his owners, MSI, who are reported consistently as wanting £17m for the player. Liverpool actually signed him before the takeover by the Americans, and so were not in a position to agree a transfer fee for him to be paid at the end of the loan deal. If they had there is no doubt the fee would have been much lower. Mascherano made it clear that he would only stay in England if it was to play for Liverpool, but did not rule out a move abroad if the Reds couldn’t agree a figure with MSI. Reports that Manchester City were about to hijack the move seem to be fictitious, and in fact it’s now believed that a fee has been agreed between Liverpool and MSI.

Scott Carson’s move to Aston Villa on a permanent basis looks like going through in the transfer window. He started for England on Friday in their friendly with Austria, something that wouldn’t have happened had he stayed at Anfield as Pepe Reina’s understudy instead of going to Villa on loan. Part of that loan deal included an option for Villa to make it permanent for £10m, which represents quite a profit on the amount Liverpool paid for him from Leeds, just £750,000.

One report today claims Aston Villa won’t just be writing out a cheque for £10m, instead that they’ll double that to include Peter Crouch. Villa may well be interested in the forward, but Rafa Benitez will not sell Crouch unless he’s happy that he’s got enough cover for him. Benitez likes to have four strikers to choose from, generally using three in his matchday squad with the fourth one sitting the game out. Then he’ll rotate, bringing the fourth one into the squad and letting one of the others rest. He does this both to allow the right player to be used for the right game, and for the fact he feels it gives him as fit a team as possible on the pitch at any one time. And this brings him a lot of criticism.

Rafa continually praises Crouch in public, and used him in Liverpool’s last two games prior to the international break. Without a replacement for him Rafa is highly unlikely to let him go in January, unless he really does feel he needs the cash for other departments in the squad. If he does let Crouch go without a replacement, it would be because he felt Ryan Babel was able to be used as a striker when required. The Dutch youngster was signed for the wide positions, but Rafa now has hopefully got Harry Kewell fit again, and has been impressed with Sebastian Leto. With Fabio Aurelio back in the squad he can also use John Arne Riise further forward.

Another player linked with Liverpool is yet another midfielder – Spanish youngster Javi Martinez. The Athletic Bilbao player is believed to be being chased by Italian outfit Fiorentina, but is quoted as saying he likes the English game: “I watch the Premier League games on TV, and the atmosphere is magnificent. I don’t yet know anything of Liverpool’s interest.” Whether the player’s agent has been told of interest, or is just trying to get a better deal for the player from his current club remains to be seen, but Athletic claim they’ve heard nothing: “We haven’t received an official offer. For the moment we are calm.” At a quoted £18m value, it’s unlikely that they’ll receive an offer anytime soon from Anfield, Rafa simply does not have that kind of money at his disposal, certainly not under the current policy of Hicks and Gillett.*(Rafa denies Martinez interest)

Other reports claim Momo Sissoko is on his way out of Anfield after becoming tired of waiting for his chance to play. The reports were almost certainly written by someone who’d failed to realise that some of Momo’s most recent absences were due to his own sickness. John Arne Riise is another name linked with a move away from the club, and this is more likely given the fact his contract is now entering its last 18 months.

* Rafa later told the official LFC website that the Reds weren’t going to be buying Martinez. He said: “He is a young player who we know about because Bilbao paid good money for him, but we are not watching the player and are not thinking about signing him, as I have read in the Spanish press.”