Rafael Benitez prepares to revisit a familiar part of the country on Sunday afternoon as he looks to secure maximum points from the Christmas period.
Our interim manager spent six years on Merseyside as manager of Everton’s city rivals Liverpool, and knows just what to expect from David Moyes’s side at Goodison Park this afternoon.
The Toffees approach the game in fifth place following wins against West Ham and Wigan, and we have not won there in the Barclays Premier League since April 2008.
‘Moyes is doing a great job, they have good players and team spirit and it will be a tough game for us,’ Benitez said. ‘They are doing well at the top of the table and fighting against teams with more resources.’
The Spaniard’s family still live on Merseyside, and he has two daughters at school in the area. Having helped the families who suffered at the Hillsborough tragedy, he retains strong links with the city.
‘Obviously it is something special when you go to Liverpool. My connection with the city is very strong,’ he said.
‘I have lived in many places, Liverpool was fantastic, and my family understand I have to move around. The children are in school so have to stay there but I am really pleased in Cobham also. When you have children, who have their friends around, it is difficult to move the family around.
‘Football in England is something special. Everybody has passion all around the country. Every game is important and you enjoy football. I was in Italy and I remember an interview where a guy was saying the difference in football with England and Spain is that you can go with your family to the football. It is something safe. People take football with passion but also as entertainment and it’s really good.’
Residing on his own in Surrey, Benitez is able to spend more time planning training sessions and getting to know the players he has at his disposal. He has been delighted with the progress made in a short space of time.
‘I wanted to manage a top side and Chelsea is a top side, so I am really pleased. I am happy watching the players train and work so hard, and winning. After Japan winning games in a row and showing character, I am really happy and they are responding really well,’ he explained.
‘To be fair I am more adapting myself to them, so I know what I want and what we are trying to achieve but the main thing is the feedback from them. We listen to them and adjust things in the way we want but give them some freedom and we have a good balance. They are keen to learn and that’s the main thing as a manager.
‘You could see against Aston Villa we were thinking about the attack, but we have to be strong in defence and a clean sheet is also positive. The players have more confidence if they know they can go forward and the defence is alright. Balance is key in any top side. If you regain the ball you have possession and will be more dangerous. At Norwich against a good team we were controlling the game, and still trying to go forward.’