Benitez has Mascherano trust

Reds boss believes midfielder is over summer disappointment

Mascherano: Benitez backing

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Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez remains confident midfielder Javier Mascherano is completely committed ahead of a Premier League title challenge.

The Argentina international was a summer target of European champions Barcelona and talks took place regarding a possible move to the Camp Nou.

Benitez resisted the urge to sell, especially in the wake of Xabi Alonso's £30million switch to Real Madrid, and now believes Mascherano is ready for battle with Liverpool.

The Reds boss also feels that the 25-year-old is over the disappointment of being denied the opportunity to become a club colleague of international team-mate and Barca star Lionel Messi.

Speaking about the saga, Benitez - who saw Fernando Torres sign a new contract on Friday - said: "Javier has a very good friend in the national team and that is Messi.

Tough season

"Messi was on to him every day and that is not easy, but Javier knows what we think of him and he will be okay."

"I talked with Javier, his agent and Barca. It is normal they see him as such a good player, and an option for them.

"We told Javier he was so important for us and we wanted to keep him. We were not talking about any price.

"He was a bit disappointed as it was a fantastic opportunity with a big club. But he is happy here, and as a player and a person you can trust him 100 per cent."

Meanwhile, Benitez is expecting a tough battle for places in the top four of the Premier League this season.

Worried

The Spaniard predicts Liverpool's Sunday opponents Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa will all be competing for the UEFA Champions League spots.

Benitez appreciates why Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes it will be a tough season.

He said: "We can always talk about the top four, but Manchester City are doing a very good job and have bought some excellent players. I can understand why Mr Ferguson at Manchester United is a little bit worried.

"Aston Villa and Tottenham have also spent some money, so there will five, six or more fighting now.

"As for our title chances, the players know we were very close last season and they want to improve. We know what this team can achieve and they will be ready."