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As one homegrown Liverpool hero nears the exit, another spent Tuesday night adding another page to his legend.

Steven Gerrard struck twice in Graz to all but ensure Liverpool will reach the group stages of the Champions League, but of far greater significance was the fact that Michael Owen played no part in a comfortable victory.

By leaving him on the bench, Rafael Benitez avoided cup-tying Owen and all but confirmed that the club are ready to negotiate with Real Madrid over the sale of the 24-year-old, even if Benitez was evasive when pressed on the point.

"I will only say that [Milan] Baros and [Djibril] Cisse played," he said. "We have four forwards and four possibilities."

He would not, though, deny there had been contact with Real. "I do not like to read the future," he said. "I will say nothing more."

It is understood Liverpool would be seeking a fee of about £25m, to be made up of a £10m cash payment plus a player. Who that would be remains open to question. The Cameroon forward Samuel Eto'o, part-owned by Real with Real Mallorca, is a possibility, but more likely seems Fernando Morientes, who spent last season on loan at Monaco.

If there is gloom among Liverpool fans at the thought of losing Owen, there was much encouragement to be drawn elsewhere last night, particularly in the form of their captain, who rejected a lucrative move to Chelsea in the summer.

As a destructive force he had little to do against an ordinary Grazer AK side, but he spread the play with customary intelligence and precision and, when teed up by Dietmar Hamann midway through the first half, speared a shot to the top corner from 25 yards to give Liverpool the lead.

Only a linesman's flag indicating a high foot from Cisse denied him a volleyed second from similar range, but Liverpool's captain did make it 2-0 12 minutes from time, thumping a low shot into the bottom corner after Cisse and Harry Kewell had combined on the break.

Cisse was not quite at his explosive best, but he and right-back Josemi enjoyed impressive debuts, while Baros looked as lively as he had for the Czech Republic in the summer, two fine saves from goalkeeper Andreas Schranz denying him the goal he deserved.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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