Sunday, January 18, 2009

Liverpool v Everton: Preview

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is not worried that Manchester United have taken his team's top spot in the Premier League and maintains their title bid is still on track.

United's 1-0 victory over Bolton on Saturday lifted them a point clear of Liverpool, who play Merseyside rivals Everton at Anfield on Monday night.

Xabi Alonso (foot) and Fernando Torres (hamstring) have declared themselves fit to start for the Reds.

Fellow Spaniard Alvaro Arbeloa is also set to return after a hamstring problem, although centre-back Daniel Agger (calf) may miss the game.

Benitez's rant at United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and the row over his contract extension have raised questions over whether the Reds can handle the pressure of a title challenge.

However, the Liverpool boss insists their approach has not altered and they are unconcerned by the rise of United.

"The situation does not change, no matter what they do,'' said the Spaniard.

"We have to get three points in every single game and especially in the derby.

"I think it is important to understand when people talk about the title and your position in the table that I didn't expect in August to win the title in January.

"No-one can expect this. If you keep calm and analyse the situation you will know if you want to win the title it has to be maybe in May and to have Chelsea, Arsenal, now Aston Villa, and United in the title race is normal.

"We will try to stay there and if we cannot be (top) one week then the next week we have to think about getting three points and getting ahead again.

"I have a lot of confidence in my team.''

Benitez insists the club being in contention - having not won the championship since 1990 - has given his players an extra lift as the matches begin to get more important.

"There is a little bit of anxiety because we are in a fantastic position, but we have to be calm and take one game at a time,'' he added.

Everton manager David Moyes believes Mikel Arteta is in the form of his life going into the derby against the Reds.

The 26-year-old Spanish midfielder has become an increasingly influential figure at Goodison Park after arriving initially on loan four years ago.

Since reverting to a central midfield role, he has added goals to his game and scored his fifth of the season in the win over Hull last weekend.

If there were any doubts he would struggle to get over an operation in the summer to correct a stomach injury they have been firmly put to bed, according to Moyes.

The Everton manager will be without suspended midfielder Marouane Fellaini, as well as long-term injury victims James Vaughan (knee), Aiyegbeni Yakubu (Achilles) and Louis Saha (hamstring).

Nuno Valente (knee) is missing too but Joseph Yobo could come into contention after being sidelined with a hamstring injury for the last four matches.

But there are no doubts over Arteta's fitness and contribution, and Moyes said: "Mikel is always looking to score goals and it was a terrific one last week.

"Hopefully he will get a few more - he is always practising. He has found another dimension to his game.

"We needed someone to put his foot on the ball and control the play for us in the middle of the park. That has given Mikel confidence and the team confidence.

"It has taken him a while to get over the injury but his form has been very good and he has been playing very well.

"We are pleased as he has been an influence on the side for several years.

"Maybe he slipped off it a little bit at the start of the season because of his injury but since he has come back, he has got himself into condition.''

Moyes admitted that Arteta - who had a spell at Rangers - found it difficult to adjust to the English game in 2005.

The Scot said: "We brought him in as a central midfield player and he looked a little bit lightweight for the Premier League.

"He has played on the right and the left as well as the middle. He is versatile and we will continue to use him that way.

"Mikkel is now competing and handling the pace of the game much better in the middle.''

Dead-ball specialist Arteta has yet to be recognised by Spain and Moyes added: "We have always been trying to get Mikel nearer the squad but the competition is incredible.

"It will be tough for him but all you can do is play your best. At the moment he is playing his best.''

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