Mascherano saga frustrates Rafa’s “uncertain” future

The press aren’t backing down. They are convinced that the next few months are key to Rafael Benitez’s future at Anfield. Today there’s more fear that the delay on transfer talk that Tom Hicks and George Gillett are reported to be imposing is likely to lead to Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano literally being stolen from under the noses of Liverpool. Ahead of tonight’s Premier League clash with Wigan at Anfield, we take a look at what this morning’s papers are saying.

Paul Walker discusses in today’s The Independent with worry about the job Benitez has on his hands to keep his job in Anfield hot seat.

Rafael Benitez enters the new year with Liverpool’s destiny, and his own, resting on the next few months. The Spaniard sends Liverpool out to face relegation-threatened Wigan at Anfield tonight knowing victory is required to keep his side in touch with the Premier League leaders and clear of the chasing pack.

Whatever is being said publicly about Benitez by the club’s American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, or by the chief executive, Rick Parry, the Spaniard’s future remains uncertain. He is not to be allowed to spend widely this month, and the future of Javier Mascherano is no nearer conclusion, with his loan ending in the summer.

The Americans will not now spend £17m, and that could prompt Mascherano’s agents to tout the Argentine around Europe, with Barcelona waiting.

Walker goes on to discuss tonight’s team news’¦

It means the full-back Alvaro Arbeloa, a stop-gap centre-half against Manchester City, is likely to partner Jamie Carragher again as it is unlikely Benitez will risk the rookie Jack Hobbs.

Peter Crouch returns to the squad after a three-match suspension, and Xabi Alonso may be back in the line-up after being on the bench against City.

John Arne Riise and Andriy Voronin are pushing for recalls as Benitez faces Bruce, a manager he has never beaten in league action. For Wigan, Emile Heskey is expected to face his former club after recovering from an ankle injury. Jason Koumas also returns after a groin problem.

The Daily Star runs with a story about Javier Mascherano too, looking at the midfield maestro’s optimism that the title is not yet out of reach for the Reds.

Javier Mascherano is determined to win the Premier League with Liverpool ‘“ even if it’s only as a farewell gift.

He said: ‘œWe can still win the Premier League, yes. But we can’t keep looking at the table.

‘œWe’ve got a game coming up against Wigan and we just have to win our next two or three games.”

Oliver Kay of The Times too discusses Mascherano’s plea to resolve a deal to stay at Anfield before his ‘œeconomic rights’ owner Media Sports Investments seal a deal with another top club. Kay goes on to briefly discuss Liverpool’s options in the transfer market for a new defender this January.

Fulham are among the clubs interested in Eddie Johnson. The United States forward turned down a move to Derby County in the summer after a fee of about £3 million was agreed. He chose to stay at the Kansas City Wizards and has attracted interest from Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Reading and Benfica. Johnson’s contract is structured to give him the final say over whether he is purchased by any one of 15 designated clubs, with Manchester United among them.

The Daily Express says Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland is not expecting an emotional return to Anfield tonight, despite us being his former club and boyhood heroes.

Since he was a boy Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland has been a Liverpool fan, but he has avoided going back to Anfield after being forced out by Rafa Benitez.

And although the Kop is famously generous in the reception it gives to visiting goalkeepers, Kirkland is not expecting it to be an emotional return.

He said: “I still keep an eye on what’s happening at Anfield because I’m a fan. I always supported them but there’ll be no sentiment going there.”

Liverpool vs Wigan kicks-off at Anfield at 8pm tonight. For the latest team news and pre-match discussion, head to our forums.