Juventus step up efforts for Rafa Benitez in battle with Real Madrid for Liverpool manager

Juventus have stepped up their pursuit of Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez amid fears that Real Madrid will make the Spaniard a more tempting offer.

Reports in Turin claim Juve president Jean-Claude Blanc held a six-hour meeting in Milan on Monday with Benitez's agent Manuel Garcia Quilon to work through the detail of the Anfield boss's summer arrival.

However, Benitez is also greatly admired in Madrid, with one influential poll showing that the fans would rather have the 49-year-old than Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu.

Rafa Benitez

Is that the way to Turin? Rafa Benitez could be leaving Liverpool this summer

The Spanish giants' general director Jorge Valdano has given current coach Manuel Pellegrini the dreaded vote of confidence, but it is widely expected that the Chilean will be sacked at the end of the season unless he can win La Liga.

Newspaper Marca, which has close links to the club, named Benitez, Mourinho, Fabio Capello, Carlo Ancelotti and Luiz Felipe Scolari as the preferred candidates for the hot seat. The publication's poll of 100,000 readers has Liverpool's under-fire boss in top spot with nearly 40 per cent of the vote.

Sportsmail revealed in January that Juve were casting their eyes towards Merseyside when Ciro Ferrara's reign was coming to an ends.

The Serie A giants installed Alberto Zaccheroni as caretaker boss when it became apparent that their first choice would not join in mid-season, but the Italian veteran has not done enough to secure the job permanently and contact has continued with Benitez's camp.

Turin newspaper Tuttosport says a clause in the former Valencia boss's contract is a barrier to the deal, with claims that a £14million recision fee would have to be paid to Liverpool.

However, talks are said to be advancing to an extent that summer transfer targets have been discussed.

While attempts to sign Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano may prove too ambitious, the name of Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko - a target for Chelsea and Manchester City - was also raised.


Frustration: Liverpool's failure to beat Fulham on Sunday means a fourth placed finish is looking increasingly distant

Benitez is facing up to the reality that Liverpool are unlikely to qualify for the Champions League next season, with victory in the Europa League a more achievable consolation prize.

Meanwhile, Madrid defender Sergio Ramos insisted his team-mates were still behind Pellegrini, despite the 2-0 weekend defeat by Barcelona that makes the Catalans clear favourites for the title.

'We are standing by Pellegrini through thick and thin and we always have done,' said the defender. 'He has our full support.'

But with England boss Capello tipped by some to return to Madrid, Ramos drew inspiration from the Italian's achievement of winning La Liga against the odds in 2007.

'This team will fight to the death to win this league,' said the vice-captain. 'We need to be at our strongest.

'Twenty-one points are still in play and they can drop points, so we need to win the seven remaining matches.

'The league we won with Capello appeared to be lost but we ended up winning it.'

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