Rafa Benitez Must Strengthen if His Side are to Catch Manchester United

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Rafa Benitez Must Strengthen if His Side are to Catch Manchester United
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

All the talk about Liverpool at the moment seems to revolve around the clubs financial problems—will the American's be able to refinance their loan, or will the club be subject to another takeover?

However, for the fans, there are more important issues—such as the managers dealings in the transfer market. If Rafa Benitez does not act fast, he will miss out on his first choice targets once again, and be forced to make do with what he can get.

After the disaster in Rome, and the imminent departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as Carlos Tevez rumoured move to Manchester City, Manchester United are looking somewhat vulnerable. It would be foolish to say they are in crisis, but they certainly look a lot weaker than they did this time last month.

And so it falls to Benitez to assemble a team capable of challenging Sir Alex. Liverpool were the closest they've been for years last season, but there is still room for improvement in this Liverpool squad.

In goal, there are no problems. Pepe Reina is consistent and rarely injured, whilst Diego Cavalieri provides suitable back up.

Alvaro Arbeloa is solid at right back, but there is little competition. Philip Degen's consistent injuries meant Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and even Javier Mascherano had to fill in at right back at times last season.

There are rumours Glen Johnson is set to arrive from Portsmouth, and although he is certainly a talented player, and would be a good addition to the squad, the fee is off putting.

Figures up to 17 million pounds have been thrown around, and to spend that on a right back, given Liverpool's financial limitations, and the fact they already have a perfectly good player in Arbeloa, is ridiculous.

I would rather the club gamble on Micah Richards, who could cost as little as 5 million pounds. Richards has lost his way this season at City, but he proved in the '07/'08 season that he has ability, and a transfer could be just what he needs to get his career back on track. He can also fill in at centre back, if needs be.

At left back, Fabio Aurelio is more than capable, and Emmanuel Insua provides quality back up. Hopefully Andrea Dossena will return to Italy, with rumours the club could make only a small loss on the 7 million pound flop.

Daniel Agger has the potential to become one of the finest defenders in Europe, as shown by interest from AC Milan and Barcelona in the talented Dane, and I would like to see him much more involved next season.

However, finding him a partner could be a problem. Jamie Carragher always give his all for the cause, but he seems to have somewhat lost his way since Christmas- Martin Skrtel even more so.

With Red legend Sami Hyypia heading to Bayern Lerekusen, a new centre back should be made a priority. Pompey's Sylvan Distin has been linked, but I would much rather the club persue Sebastien Bassong from relegated Newcastle.

It would also do no harm to enquire about Rafael Marquez, Barca's Mexican defender who must fight local boys Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique for a place in the Barcelona team.

Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso form one of the finest central midfield partnership in all of Europe, and so it is vital that Benitez keeps this pair from the clutches of Spain's big two, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Benitez seems determined to hold on to Mascherano, and with Gareth Barry having joined Manchester City, now seems content to keep Alonso at the club. Lucas provides decent cover in this position when called upon.

Dirk Kuyt seems to have nailed down the right wing position under Rafa, and has just enjoyed his most productive season yet in a red shirt after a disastrous 07/08 campaign. Yossi Benayoun is a talented player capable of unlocking the tightest of defences, but if any club offer upwards of 10 million for the Israeli, it may by time to let him go. 

On the left, Albert Reira blows hot and cold, but he has earnt another season at Anfieldwith some impressive performances this season. The same cannot be said of Ryan Babel, who seems to have gone backwards this season. Babel is predictable and lazy, and if Benitez can get more than 8 million for the Dutchman, he should be very grateful.

A new winger should be Benitez's top priority this summer, and hopefully this is what Beintez will allocate most of his transfer budget towards. The Reds need a player to open up teams such as Stoke and Fulham, who come to Anfield and put 11 men behind the ball. It was failure to break these teams down that cost Liverpool the title last season.

Valencia's David Silva is an exciting prospect, but Liverpool may be priced out of a move for him. Aliaksandr Hleb is reportedly set to leave Barcelona, and it would be interesting to see Bentiez try and bring him back to the Premier League.

Benitez would be wise to take advantage of the spending spree at his former club Real Madrid—with Kaka and Ronaldo arriving, and Ribery set to follow, there may be no place in the team for talented Dutchman Arjen Robben.

Robben is unpopular with Liverpool fans for his antics in a league game between the two clubs in '05/'06, in which Robben's dying swan act saw Pepe Reina sent off. However, there is no doubting Robben's ability, and he could be a valuable addition to the Liverpool squad.

Whoever the Reds sign, I just pray it is not Stewart Downing, who is linked with a move to Anfield every summer.

Up front, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres form a fine partnership. However, there is little cover if either gets injured, with David N'Gog not yet capable of stepping up to the first team. Because of this, Liverpool should be on the lookout for a new striker this summer who will be happy to sit on the bench, but can do a job when called upon.

Middlesborough striker Tuncay looks set to leave the club after their relegation, and he may be worth a look. Barcelona's Eidur Gudjohnson reportedly wants to return to England, and he is another who could do well at Liverpool, and has a wealth of premier league experience.

As mentioned earlier, there are sure to be some players available from Madrid, and the club have an abundance of talented strikers. Legendary forward Raul is unlikely to leave, but Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Gonzalo Higuain, and Javier Saviola could all leave the Bernabeu.

It is former Mancheser United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy who is the most attractive proposition for me, though, with rumours he could cost just over 1 million pounds—a bargain for a player with his goal scoring record.

I would rather the club steer clear of Michael Owen, who would demand big wages and has not been the same player since leaving Liverpool back in 2004.

Of course, buying this amount of players is sure to cost money- money some claim Livepool do not have. If the club could obtain the first choice target in each position, however, this team is certainly affordable.

As I mentioned Micah Richards could be just 5 million pounds, with Bassong probably around a similar price, and Van Nistelrooy just 1 million. I'd estimate Robben would cost just under 20 million, bring the total spending to around 30 million pounds.

Given the club could recoup 6 million from Dossena and 8 million from Babel, as well as a few million for fringe players such as Philip Degen, Nabil El Zahr, and Sebastien Leto, this amount of spending is far from outrageous.

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