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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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Benitez: No Torres op, crisis talks with Gerrard

Rafael Benitez insists Liverpool have no intention of sending Fernando Torres for an operation on his hernia problem and is backing Steven Gerrard to recapture top form after a discussion with the club captain.

• Cook: Liverpool sounded out Mancini
• Rush: Torres won't quit Reds

The Anfield chief has reacted to suggestions Spain would like their star striker to have an operation now rather than risk a further breakdown that could affect his chances of playing in the World Cup finals. Skipper Gerrard has often struggled to reach his usual high standards this season, with injury problems a factor.

Torres has played two full matches since his return from extensive treatment but along with Gerrard, has not looked at his best. But the striker is expected to lead the attack again on Boxing Day with Benitez hoping Gerrard and Torres will soon find their true form.

Benitez said: "An operation is not in our minds, I was surprised to hear such suggestions from Spain because we have a good working relationship with their medical team.

"We will continue to manage Torres' problem and assess him on a game-to-game basis."

The Spanish boss told newspaper reporters: "Steven knows that he has to improve but that for me is very positive. He knows he is a very important player for us and we were analysing his statistics and he is doing much better.

"In the last game he wasn't at his level but that can happen in one game. He knows he is improving physically and the main thing now is confidence. I was talking with him this week about how to improve. He wants to give more.

"I am 100 per cent that he wants to give more. He is the captain and he is very important for the team and the club. He is someone who is pushing now and wants to improve."

The Wolves game could be played with another episode on the future ownership of the club unfolding.

Sources in Saudi Arabia are claiming Prince Faisal bin Fahad bin Abdullah will be at the match, with the prospect of co-owner George Gillett being prepared to sell his stake. Neither side would comment.

If the prince is at Anfield, it will be to see a side with just four wins in 17 matches and with Liverpool eight points adrift of a Champions League qualification spot.

Their season is going from bad to worse with Benitez's position constantly questioned but the Spaniard consistently declines to discuss his own future.

Asked if he would resign if things did not improve, Benitez ducked the question by saying: "We must start winning, against Wolves certainly, and then we will see a change."

With Manchester City chief Mark Hughes axed last weekend despite being in sixth place, Benitez said: "I do not like to see any manager fired, it is important to give support to managers and to wait, to give them time.

"But things are changing in football, especially in England, however it is important that people retain confidence in a manager."

Asked if his own record of seven defeats in the league this season made him fear for his position considering Hughes' lost only twice, Benitez again dodged the question saying: "I am just concentrating on Wolves and preparing the team for the next game."

Benitez could bring in Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani, who missed last weekend's defeat at Portsmouth with a calf injury.

Aquilani, a £20million summer signing from Roma, has yet to start a Premier League game for Liverpool having battled to recover from an ankle injury.

But even though he is over that problem, Benitez has mystified fans with a stubborn refusal to use the 25 year-old.

But with Javier Mascherano suspended, Aquilani could be plunged into the Wolves match.

Benitez said: "Alberto picked up a calf injury in the win against Wigan and was not able to travel to Portsmouth. He is getting better but we will have to see how he progresses, but he is certainly in contention to play against Wolves."

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