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Fantasy follow-up: Week 8

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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 6 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Dec 30, 2007

Rafa ready for plunge into transfer market

Rafael Benitez is ready to plunge into the January transfer market in an attempt to solve Liverpool's central-defensive crisis.

With Sami Hyypia sidelined by an ankle injury and Daniel Agger still to recover from a broken foot, Benitez was forced to pick Alvaro Arbeloa alongside Jamie Carragher for today's 0-0 draw with Manchester City at Eastlands.

Although a clean sheet suggests the decision worked, Benitez knows the situation is unsustainable over the long term and with youngster Jack Hobbs likely to be restricted to games such as next weekend's FA Cup tie at Luton, the Merseyside giants need reinforcements.

Benitez has been heavily linked with Fiorentina's Czech Republic international Tomas Ujfalusi, as well as AC Milan's Kakha Kaladze and Racing Santander's £8million-rated Ezequiel Garay.

The Liverpool boss is understandably not naming names. But, despite reports owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett would be offering a very restricted budget, Benitez is getting ready to spend.

'We are working to try to find some solutions and we are close to getting some players,' said Benitez.

'Until they actually put pen to paper we will keep working with the players we have but we are confident we can get the right players at the right price and that would be good for us.'

On the evidence of Sunday afternoon's contest, Benitez could do worse than try to prize Richard Dunne away from City.

The Blues skipper turned in an awesome display, not only subduing the considerable threat of Fernando Torres in a way few have managed this season.

Dunne also managed to hack off the line when Joe Hart saved Dirk Kuyt's late effort before sliding in to block Yossi Benayoun's goal-bound strike, the last chance Liverpool had to make their dominance tell.

'I don't know if it was Richard's best performance for Manchester City but it was an extremely good one,' said City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

'He is a good player and our captain and he showed the way forward.'

With Micah Richards providing able assistance to his central defensive partner, Dunne marshalled City towards a point which keeps them just one adrift of Liverpool in the battle for fourth, while leaving the Merseysiders 10 behind new leaders Arsenal.

Unlike former team-mate Joey Barton, who lurches from one crisis to another, Dunne has learned from the mistakes he made under former manager Kevin Keegan and, according to Eriksson, is now a model professional.

'He is a very important member of our dressing room,' said the former England manager.

'He has been here for a long time and it is good to have someone like that around the club.

'Not only is he a good footballer, he is a very sensible person, which is what you require from a captain.'

Having lost their 100% home record to Blackburn on Thursday, City never looked like making an immediate return to winning ways.

Yet, while they failed to muster a single chance of note, Eriksson feels the Blues still have an outside opportunity of landing a top-four spot, which would almost certainly be at Liverpool's expense.

'We will not be the favourites, but we will fight,' he said.

Benitez, while disappointed at his side's failure to take advantage of Manchester United's surprise loss at West Ham, conceded City are becoming a formidable unit under Eriksson.

'Manchester City are getting very close to a top-four team,' he said.

'I was talking with Dietmar Hamann beforehand and he told me they have some good players, as you could see. You cannot win nine games in a row at home without having good players.

'They should be really close but the question in this league is whether you can keep your team playing well for a long time. The season lasts nine months and it is hard work.'

Meanwhile, Eriksson has confirmed his own new arrival, Mexico forward Nery Castillo, will not be available for Wednesday's trip to Newcastle.

Castillo has signed a 12-month loan from Shakhtar Donetsk but Premier League registration rules mean he cannot feature until next weekend's FA Cup tie at West Ham.