Liverpool boss Benitez facing December axe

The Guardian says the relationship has deteriorated with astonishing speed in the past week and Benitez's future may well be decided before he meets George Gillett and Tom Hicks in 20 days' time.

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Their fate in the Champions League will be decided by December 11 - they play in Marseille on that date and entertain Porto on Wednesday in must-win fixtures - and the Americans will not release substantial funds if they are out.

The warring factions last met following the home draw with Arsenal on October 28 when, following extensive talks on the club's transfer strategy for January and the proposed £400m stadium on Stanley Park, their working relationship was repaired to harmonious levels. It had been strained since May, when Benitez first attacked spending policy in the wake of the European Cup final defeat by Milan and when he was in a far more powerful position with the fledgling owners than he is now.

"After that meeting, something changed," added Benitez after victory at Newcastle. "They said to me, 'Rafa, concentrate on coaching and training the team because Rick Parry will be in charge of buying and selling players.' So now I will wait and maybe we will lose some targets."

Hicks and Gillett have made it clear they expect more from last summer's recruits but it is their suspicion over Benitez’s ability to wrest the title from Manchester United that ignited the Spaniard's ire.

The manager now believes he has nothing to lose by confronting the tycoons in public and is prepared to make life as difficult for them as possible during what remains of his time at the club.

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