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Benitez U-turn as he tells Alonso to stay

Real Madrid target Xabi Alonso has been told by Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez that he wants the Spanish international to stay at Anfield.

The 27-year-old midfielder was almost forced out of the club last summer when Benitez wanted to offload his compatriot in order to fund a bid for Aston Villa's Gareth Barry.

While both Arsenal and Juventus signalled their interest in Alonso, neither the club were willing to match Liverpool's £16m valuation and as a result Benitez was unable to mount a bid for Barry.

Despite being deemed surplus to requirements ahead of the current season, Alonso did not allow the speculation to affect his performances and has been in superb form for Liverpool, playing a key role in their first genuine Premier League title challenge.

His response has seen his stock rise with Benitez, who now deems him integral to Liverpool's development; but with fresh reports of Real Madrid targeting a summer bid for Alonso, Benitez could struggle to retain the player's services.

''We have a lot of confidence in him and he is a player we want to keep because he has the quality, and the game, that we need,'' Benitez told the Daily Star. ''His first year was really good and this year he is also playing really well. You know that we had an offer from Juventus. They couldn't give us the price we wanted so that was it.

''In the end, Xabi has been having a very good season. He has been playing well in a lot of games and is a key player for us.''

Benitez must hope that his conciliatory words will be enough to convince Alonso, who moved to Merseyside from Real Sociedad five years ago, to counteract the lure of the Bernabeu.

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