Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso is likely to miss the rest of the season because of a broken ankle, according to manager Rafael Benitez.
Alonso picked up the injury during Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on New Year’s Day, but was expected to return within three months.
Benitez said: “I think that Xabi will not play for us again this season.”
“After three months, you don’t know, some players can come straight back but some players take a lot of time.
“If Xabi comes back it will be a bonus.”
The news is a blow to Liverpool. Alonso, a £10.5m summer signing from Real Sociedad, has been one of the club’s few successes in what has thus far been a disappointing season.
Benitez, meanwhile, defended two of his signings, Luis Garcia and Mauricio Pellegrino, both of whom have come in for criticism since their arrival at Anfield.
“Pellegrino and Fernando Morientes have been five months without playing regularly and they need time,” he said.
“Pellegrino’s a good player, a winner with a strong mentality.
“He’s working very, very hard and I am sure he will bring more things to us.
“Luis Garcia is a very skilful and intelligent player. He needs to use his qualities more and it is different for him playing here than what he was used to in Spain.
“He has played very well at home for us and that shows he can do it. He needs to learn how to adapt to play away but he is a very good player who scores goals.
“Robert Pires wasn’t great in his first season at Arsenal but look at him now. It is only a matter of time with Luis.”