Sunderland are bracing themselves for a battle to keep hold of prize asset Jordan Henderson with Liverpool hot on his trail.
Reports on Friday suggested the Merseysiders have made an improved £15million bid for the 20-year-old England midfielder.
The Black Cats were not commenting on the matter, but it is understood they are well aware of Liverpool's interest and remain unmoved in their stance that the player is not for sale.
Manager Steve Bruce has informally placed a value of around £20million on Henderson's head, an acknowledgement of the figure it might take to persuade his current employers to think about any offer.
However, the intention is still to place the Academy graduate at the centre of the club's plans for the new campaign and in the circumstances, Liverpool's interest in him is both unwelcome and potentially divisive.
The Reds' pursuit of striker Kenwyne Jones, along with that of Tottenham in January 2009, had the effect of unsettling the player, and while he ultimately stayed at the Stadium of Light after signing a new and improved contract, his form dipped and he was eventually sold to Stoke.
Sunderland will hope their interest in Henderson, who is currently away on England Under-21 duty, does not turn his head with the midfielder leading the way for a new generation of home-grown players on Wearside.
Speculation over the midfielder's future has been rife since his form for the Black Cats won him a regular starting berth two seasons ago and in November last year, his elevation to the senior England squad.
Manchester United and Manchester City have both been credited with an interest in him in the recent past, and Bruce is realistic enough to know that there could come a point at which an offer simply becomes too good to refuse.
Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has also been linked with a move for Bruce's skipper Lee Cattermole, whose time at the Stadium of Light has been blighted by injuries.
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