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Apr 19, 2013

Benitez: Anfield will be emotional

Rafa Benitez admits his return to Anfield for the first time as a visiting manager with Chelsea on Sunday will be emotional.

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• Lucas: Benitez return will be strange

Benitez spent six years in charge of Liverpool between 2004 and 2010, winning the Champions League at the end of his first season, while his main family home is still in nearby Wirral.

The return comes for what will be the Reds' first game since Monday's memorial service to mark the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

Benitez made a £96,000 donation to the Hillsborough Family Support Group when he left Anfield three years ago, and his wife Montse remains involved in regular charity work to help the families of the tragedy's victims.

He told Spanish paper Marca earlier this month that he wants to return to manage the Merseysiders one day, but insists his focus this weekend will be on securing a Chelsea victory.

Benitez told the Daily Mail: "I will try to do the best for my team and that is Chelsea. I am a professional and that is what I have to do. I cannot forget the time I spent there and the feeling, the atmosphere, the success, the link with the fans and the city - it is my home - but I will try to win. That is what I have to do.

"This will be quite emotional but I have to concentrate. It will not be easy when you see so many friends around but I will try to concentrate on the game.

"The players have to believe I can manage the situation and give them help if they need it. Normally, I am not too emotional but now I'm getting older it happens sometimes."

Benitez is set to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, having been named interim manager in November following the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo.

His appointment was an unpopular one among Chelsea fans, mindful of his previous criticisms of the club, stoked by a rivalry that saw them play Liverpool 26 times in the six years the Spaniard was in charge at Anfield.

Benitez said in 2007 that he would never manage Chelsea and mocked them for laying out flags for their fans to wave before a Champions League meeting between the sides.

"Our fans don't need plastic flags," he said at the time.

Recalling those comments now, he said: "I was just trying to encourage our fans, that's all.

"You try to create a good environment and if you remember in the Champions League semi-final, there was massive support from our fans for our players. It had to be like this.

"If you have a chance, now with Chelsea, you would try to do the same, for everyone, for the team."

Benitez, who also won the FA Cup, Community Shield and Super Cup during his time with Liverpool, says that his wife and daughters, Claudia and Agata, have become adopted Scousers.

The family moved to Italy when he took charge of Inter Milan in 2010, but returned to their home in the Wirral village of Caldy soon after he was sacked, just six months later.

Benitez said: "When we went to Italy, we had to decide whether to move the family or not.

"In the end, we moved together but when we came back you could see the smiles on their faces, so that was enough. They have all their friends here and the little one [Agata] thinks she is from Liverpool because she has been there all her life."

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