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Benitez's pursuit of Malouda to test Liverpool resolve

By Andy Hunter

The France international Florent Malouda has emerged as a test of Liverpool's transfer resolve this summer with Rafael Benitez hoping to beat a host of leading European clubs to the £10m-rated Lyon midfielder.

"We can sign two top class targets for €15 - €20m [£10m - £13.5m] right now," the Liverpool manager revealed during the remarkable onslaught on Anfield's transfer policy that followed defeat in the European Cup final last week and it is understood the 26-year-old, recently voted the Players' Player of the Year in France, is one of the candidates the Spaniard had in mind as he appealed for swift and decisive action from the club's new American owners.

Benitez's scouting department tracked Malouda throughout last season when 10 league goals in 27 starts helped the former Liverpool manager - and now former Lyon manager - G�rard Houllier deliver a sixth consecutive title. He has since informed Lyon that he wishes to end his four-year career there, despite being under contract until 2011, and Liverpool have made their interest clear to a left midfielder who has also been linked with moves to Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Milan and Juventus.

Established in the French national team and ambitious to play abroad, Malouda represents the calibre of signing Benitez requested from George Gillett and Tom Hicks during what he heralded as a pivotal summer in Liverpool's history. The Spaniard also warned Liverpool they must move quickly to beat their rivals in the transfer market, and it would represent a statement of intent from the Americans - far more effectively than their public assurances have done - if they can conclude a deal in the face of intense competition for the Lyon winger.

Benitez has denied that a prolific goalscorer is the obvious answer to Liverpool's current shortcomings and is instead intent on improving the supply to his forward line, having informed left midfielders Bolo Zenden and Mark Gonzalez they are free to leave.

Malouda rose to international prominence during last summer's World Cup when, having been omitted from France's first group game, he impressed as an ever-present and won the penalty that enabled Zinedine Zidane to open the scoring against Italy in the final. The winger has maintained his form at club level, scoring three times in the Champions League campaign, and Aulas has declared that any deal must be concluded within the next month to avoid the disruption caused when Michael Essien and Mahamadou Diarra left at the tail-end of previous summers.

"This year I will make the decision," vowed the Lyon chairman. "Late departures put us in danger. If Eric [Abidal] or Florent leave, and in the worst case only one will leave, it will only be before 30 June."

Benitez received some positive news yesterday when the Marseilles president, Pape Diouf, confirmed his club remain keen on signing Liverpool striker Djibril Ciss� on a permanent transfer. The 25-year-old spent last season on loan at Stade V�lodrome where he scored 14 goals in 26 appearances after recovering from a career-threatening broken leg, and Liverpool hope to recoup some of their £14m outlay on the forward - still their club record transfer fee - to swell their manager's budget.

Liverpool have agreed a deal to bring in two young Hungarian strikers this summer. Krisztian Nemeth, 18, and Andras Simon, 17, who both starred for their country in last year's Uefa Under-17 championships, will move to Merseyside from MTK Hungaria.

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