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Reds rule Alonso out of Hammers clash

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has confirmed that Xabi Alonso will be missing for the Premier League title chasers' crucial trip to West Ham United on Saturday.

The Spanish midfielder suffered severe bruising in the tackle that landed Newcastle United's Joey Barton a red card - and subsequently banishment from the club by his manager Alan Shearer - in last weekend's 3-0 win at Anfield.

But the injury blow has been softened by the news that fellow midfielder Javier Mascherano has recovered from an ankle injury and hamstrung striker Fernando Torres have both been passed fit to travel with squad.

"Xabi is not fit and cannot play," Benitez said. "We think maybe in the next week he will be okay. We had an idea that he could be fit for this game but in the end it was impossible.

"Javier was training and is in the squad, and so is Fernando."

Benitez will be hoping to call upon both stars against one of the meanest defences outside of the 'big four'. With the Hammers closing in on seventh spot and a place in the Europa League next season no quarter will be given at Upton Park.

West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola thinks his side still need a win and a draw from their last three games to book their place in Europe and is aiming to pick up valuable points against the Reds.

"It is another opportunity for us to beat a top team and also it has got double the value that if we win this game we have a great chance to get into Europe," Zola said.

"We are just saying we need four points but we are going to try to get nine - that is the approach we have."

Zola is determined to earn his first win against one of the league's top-four clubs as a manager, although he is wary of Liverpool's style away from home.

"In my opinion they are a team you'd rather play at their home than away as if you look at their record away it must be one of the best in the Premier League," the Italian said.

"So it is a really tough match for us but my players are determined to beat one of the really top sides.

"We played Manchester United at home and Chelsea at home and we went very close and were unlucky. We keep trying as we lost against those teams but we learnt a lot from them and we are confident that Saturday is going to be a different game."

Striker Carlton Cole is approaching a return from his groin injury but the Liverpool clash may come too soon.

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