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By ESPN Staff

Alonso's future with Liverpool still in doubt

Liverpool's summer-long pursuit of Gareth Barry remains top priority for manager Rafael Benitez, but Xabi Alonso's standing in the Anfield pecking order looks less certain.

Alonso was originally tipped to make a £16million move to Juventus in the close season but when that fell through, Liverpool's Premier League rivals Arsenal moved into pole position for the Spain international's signature.

But with Barry still very much an Aston Villa player - he played and scored in their UEFA Cup qualifier in Iceland last week to rule him out of the Champions League group stages - Alonso remains on Merseyside.

Indeed, despite falling somewhat out of favour with Benitez, it was Alonso's second-half introduction in place of the ineffective Damien Plessis at Sunderland yesterday that roused a lethargic Liverpool to a 1-0 victory in their league opener.

Compatriot Fernando Torres will rightly take the headlines for his fierce, swerving drive in the 82nd minute, but it was Alonso who fed him the ball to cap a galvanising cameo which dragged the Reds back into the game.

Benitez insisted the midfielder started among the substitutes because of a niggling injury, but left the door firmly open for any potential suitors.

'Xabi has had a dead leg so we had to protect him,' said Benitez. 'At the end of the game Plessis was injured too so we had to change. We knew Xabi was only maybe 80% of his ability so it was to protect him.

'Xabi is our player and he is playing well. If he continues to play well I will be really pleased. But it doesn't matter if you have one good player and you need another one, you have to keep the balance of the team.'

Elaborating on the possibility of letting the European Championship winner go, Benitez added: 'I explained to him why I needed money for signing other players.

'He can understand if you have (Javier) Mascherano, Lucas, Steven Gerrard and then Plessis, you have four other midfielders and maybe you can sell one player.'

Benitez admitted that cashing in on Alonso would leave the club in a better position to invest in an unnamed left-footed Englishman - and it scarcely takes a detective to finger Barry as the target.

Despite the 26-year-old Spain star's pedigree, it seems Barry's versatility and nationality, with UEFA still looking to enforce a minimum number of homegrown players on European clubs, are of the utmost importance.

'When I was first talking with Xabi (about a transfer) we needed money. After these months it is not a question of money. We would have to have a massive offer because Alonso is a great player.

'But if we sell one or two players we have enough money to bring in one more good player.

'Don't forget we will need eight British players - and the left-footer we were talking about can play in three positions too.'

Ironically, the former Valencia coach had only just finished fending off questions about his own future on Merseyside when Alonso's was called into question.

Newspaper reports over the weekend claimed he had been on the verge of resigning as Anfield boss in his frustration over the Barry deal and the ongoing boardroom problems involving co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett and chief executive Rick Parry.

He moved to reaffirm his '100% commitment' to the club but his revelation yesterday that he been in contact - and agreement - with Hicks alone, suggested all is not running smoothly behind the scenes.

'I have the support of at least one of the owners,' he commented. 'I sent emails to all of them, but he [Hicks] was clear we had the money.'


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