Rafael Benitez is likely to get the warmest reception he has enjoyed during his turbulent five months in charge of Chelsea on Sunday -- courtesy of the opposition supporters.
His time in charge with Liverpool, which coincided with a heated rivalry with Chelsea, has meant that a large section of Blues fans have viewed Benitez with constant animosity. But when he returns to Anfield with a team for the first time he is assured of a positive welcome from supporters that still fondly remember his six years in charge, which included lifting the European Cup.
Benitez also holds plenty of affection for Liverpool and still has a home in the area, but said that on Sunday he will be putting all emotions aside.
“I am a professional so I will try to do my best to achieve the targets here,” he explained, according to Chelsea’s official Web site. “I have a lot of friends and good memories so it will be emotional, but I will try to concentrate on the game and do my best for 90 minutes.”
Every match until the end of the season is likely to prove crucial as they Chelsea to secure a place in the Champions League next season. A 3-0 win at Fulham on Wednesday took Benitez’s side up to third in the Premier League, but just three points separate them from fifth-placed Tottenham.
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The Champions League is already beyond Liverpool’s reach for another season, but manager Brendan Rodgers is eager to see constant improvement from his side.
"It's an ongoing process,” Rodgers said, according to Liverpool’s official Web site. “I've signed here for three years and I would hope that from the first day I came in until the final day I leave that we'll be in a better position.
"I don't think you can put a timeline on it. Without that lightning bolt of investment, you've got to build and coach your way towards it, mold a team that can arrive there.”
Liverpool have no new fitness concerns for Sunday’s match, while Chelsea could have defenders Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill back from injury.
D: Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique
M: Lucas, Gerrard
Downing, Suarez, Coutinho
D: Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole
M: Ramires, Mikel
Oscar, Mata, Hazard
Prediction: Liverpool have been better at getting results against the top sides of late and can be expected to raise their game against Chelsea. It should also be an emotional atmosphere at Anfield following the recent anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.
At times in recent matches, Chelsea’s hectic schedule has looked like catching up with them and they may be forced to settle for a point.
Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 11 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.