Ex-Liverpool boss Benitez braced for hostile reception at Everton
10:15 29 December 2012
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Rafael Benitez is in for a hot reception from both sets of fans as he takes Chelsea to Everton tomorrow but he doesn’t seem to care one bit.
As manager of The Toffees’ deadliest rivals Liverpool, Benitez never made any attempt to endear himself to them, rather the opposite.
In 2007 he levelled the patronising insult that Everton were a “smaller club” in the Premier League.
When reminded of the jibe this week, he said: “You have a good memory.”
So, while the Evertonians will be giving the Spaniard a hard time, he can expect a similar response from the travelling Chelsea fans who also have good memories and recall the antagonistic relationship created between the Blues and Liverpool during their epic Champions League encounters, and also for the time when he said he would never want to manage the Blues.
When appointed interim manager in November he was roundly jeered and booed by Chelsea fans and that remains the same today.
But the 52-year-old is thick-skinned and well briefed - he knows what to expect.
He said: “I have a very good relationship with the [Liverpool] fans and the city, but I’m a good professional and that means I will give 100 per cent for Chelsea.”
The well-travelled manager recognises the sensitivity that surrounds his return to Liverpool as his family still live on the Wirral.
“I’m a professional,” he reiterated.
“I have lived in Tenerife and Valencia, obviously I’m from Madrid but Liverpool was fantastic and Milan was fine for six months.”
Seeing the need to further explain, he added: “As a professional my family realise that I have to move around and they are living there, the children are in school and have to stay there but I’m really pleased [to be living] in Cobham, Surrey, so there are no problems.
“When you have children, aged 10 and 14, they have their friends around and have been there for eight years so it is difficult to move the family and you have to do something for them.
“I have to move around on my own and then find a way to be there for Christmas dinner or whatever.”
A win for Everton will see them leapfrog the Londoners and the game represents the toughest challenge for Benitez since his shock appointment by Roman Abramovich following the sacking of fans’ favourite Roberto Di Matteo.
“They are at the top of the table and fighting with teams with more resources and they are doing really well,” he said.
But with Liverpool languishing five places behind their Merseyside neighbours, Benitez was wise enough not to suggest that a shift of power is taking place across Stanley Park.
“I cannot say this, what I can say is that Everton is doing well.
“I don’t think it is fair for me to talk about one or the other one, I think it is fair for me to say that we are playing Everton and they are doing well.
“[David] Moyes is doing a great job, they have good players and a good team spirit and it will be difficult for us.”
Benitez has overseen 10 matches at the Blues helm. They have won six, drawn two and lost two. However they have not conceded a goal in their last two games.
Trying to explain this, Bentiez said: “We are adjusting things but at the same time we are giving the players the freedom to do things in the way they want to do. So I think we have a good balance, and you can see they are keen to learn - that is the main thing for a manager.
“I always talk about the balance. You could see against Aston Villa that we were thinking about attacking but also the balance means we have to be strong in defence and another clean sheet for me is quite positive.
“The reaction of the players is good because they have more confidence that they know they can go forward if the defence is doing well - so again balance is the key in a top side - in any side - but in a top side it is more important.
“You cannot stop our players attacking, they have to attack but you have to be sure that you are defending well and if you regain the ball you will have possession and you will be more dangerous.
“Against a good team like Norwich on Boxing Day, we controlled the game and we were still trying to go forward.
“It was more difficult than against Aston Villa but we are still a team who is trying to go forward.”
Benitez puts on the air of a man at peace in his job, but he is also a realist and knows he could be out of SW6 even before his seven-month contract expires at the end of June.
“At the moment I’m really pleased here,” he said.
“I want to keep winning and you never know what can happen in football.”