The Mirror says Liverpool have opened contract talks with Crouch to ward off interest from Aston Villa as Benitez turns to the England striker to save their season.

Crouch only has 16 months left on his £40,000-a-week deal at Anfield.

And Villa boss Martin O'Neill was planning a £9million summer swoop for the gangly star.

But Benitez has got chief executive Rick Parry to start preliminary talks with Crouch about penning new terms.