Benitez targets Real Madrid striker


Fernando Morientes will be allowed to leave Real Madrid during next month's transfer window, though Liverpool face lengthy and potentially awkward negotiations with the Spanish club if they are to secure Rafael Benitez's principal target.

Real have privately if reluctantly sanctioned Morientes' sale, for all that the president Florentino Perez had hoped to persuade the 28-year-old to remain at the Bernabeu, having conceded the striker is intent on a move to find regular first-team football. The player's preference is understood to be a transfer to Anfield, though Real will only offload the forward at the right price.

Perez would ideally aim to secure almost £10 million for the Spanish striker, who has 18 months of his current contract to run, having signed an extension last summer. That fee would prove prohibitive to Liverpool and Morientes's other long-term suitors Monaco, for whom he scored nine goals in 12 Champions League appearances on loan last season. The prospect of tricky negotiations ahead has forced Benitez to consider other options in case compromise remains elusive.

The most viable alternative remains Manchester City's disaffected forward Nicolas Anelka, who would cost around £6 million because of City's desire to recoup as big a fee as possible, given that £4 million is still to be paid to Paris St-Germain for the French international.

He features on a list of potential signings drawn up by Liverpool and there would be support within the club's hierarchy and dressing-room for the re-signing of Anelka, not least from the captain Steven Gerrard who played alongside the Frenchman during a six-month loan at Anfield from PSG two years ago.

Yet Benitez's preference remains Morientes, despite the fact he has played for Real in the Champions League this season and would therefore be cup-tied in UEFA competition for the remainder of the campaign.

The Liverpool manager has made no secret of his frustration at his side's recent profligacy in front of goal and has been severely hampered by the loss of Djibril Cisse for up to a year with a double fracture of his leg.

Benitez is facing a goalkeeping dilemma going into the crucial festive programme.

Benitez was hoping Jerzy Dudek would put pressure on the injured Chris Kirkland with a commanding performance against Portsmouth. Instead the Poland goalkeeper appeared to be at fault for Portsmouth's equaliser which came a minute into stoppage time.

He palmed a cross from substitute Matthew Taylor into the path of Lomana LuaLua, who headed home from close range.

It was Dudek's first league appearance since September. He was dropped after the narrow Champions League defeat by Olympiakos in Greece. Whether he will keep his place on Sunday against Newcastle remains to be seen, as the extent of Kirkland's back problem has not been revealed.

However, it is clear both men are short of confidence and that must be a cause for concern for Benitez. Bad habits between the posts have caused a ripple effect throughout the team. Liverpool have become vulnerable at the back and failed to keep a clean sheet in their last nine games.

Benitez said: "That is a pity. We will try and get things right. What we are doing is creating a lot of opportunities. However, we need to turn those chances into goals."

The Spanish coach remains upbeat even though his side trail leaders Chelsea by 15 points and one wonders where they would be without dynamic captain Gerrard.

He capped a superb display at Anfield with a thunderbolt 25-yard effort with 20 minutes to go.

Liverpool are at home to Chelsea on New Year's Day but before then face West Brom and Southampton in addition to Newcastle.

Benitez said: "If you look at the table we have gained one point and closed the gap on the top four teams.

"I accept it is a bad situation losing two points at home but it is not the worst."