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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jan 19, 2007

Benitez eager for Chelsea scalp

Rafael Benitez has called for a first league victory over champions Chelsea under his command to change the course of Liverpool's season.

The Anfield chief has spent this week making sure everything he and his players have said about the Saturday lunchtime showdown with Jose Mourinho's men has been low-key in the extreme.

Benitez issued a decree that none of Liverpool's players say anything even vaguely provocative about their big rivals from West London.

But Benitez knows that a victory in front of the Kop for his side, to extend their 15-month unbeaten home league record, will be the most significant domestic triumph of his Liverpool career.

It will be his 100th Premiership match since taking over 31 months ago, and a win will equal Bill Shankly's record over his first 100 league games at the club.

Benitez has won 55 of his first 99 league games, one short of Shankly's total and beaten only by Kenny Dalglish's 61 in the club's all-time list.

A momentous day for sure but one Benitez knows is pivotal for the club and the soon-to-be new Dubai-based backers who will be in the directors' box scrutinising their likely new acquisition.

Now Benitez says: 'We have lost our last two home games in cup-ties against Arsenal, so we know we must put that right in front of our own fans. Now we must show character and that we are better than that.

'We won at Watford last weekend to show what we were capable of and now we must do the same against Chelsea, to show we are a good team and can get really close to them.

'If we can do that we will have another target. Previously we have been saying we must finish in the top four and then see what happens, because we were too far adrift.

'But if we can win we will be closer, and there is still a long way to go.'

Spanish 'keeper Jose Reina has come closest to underlining the critical importance of the game, one that Chelsea have won in the last three occasions.

Reina said: 'This may be our last opportunity to reduce the big advantage they have over us. A win against them would be very important.

'You always go one step at a time, but this could be a much bigger step forward than usual.'

Not even talk of the controversy surrounding Mourinho's Chelsea future could disturb Benitez's focus on the match--recalling that the champions were the last team to win a league game at Anfield back in October '05.

Benitez said: 'Whatever has been said this week about Chelsea, it is always hard to play against them now, a month ago or two months ago. It does not matter.

'They are a top side, not with just one important player but many. This is a test for us, but then the same applies when we play Manchester United and Arsenal at Anfield in the next few weeks.

'If we can beat them people will say we can make a real fight of it.

'Against the top sides we have to improve, and we have the confidence that we can do that.'

He added: 'We have been able to beat the top clubs in cups, it is in the league that there is the problem. But they are small details, small mistakes. And if you can score first it can change things.

'I am not interested in what has been going on at Chelsea, I am only concerned about what squad and players they will be using, nothing else. I prefer not to talk about our opponents.

'They have a very good team, a good manager and good players. They have a lot of strength and we know it will be difficult, but we also know that our form in the league has been very good.

'It is important for us. They are second in the league and we are a little bit behind that. They need to win to get close to Manchester United, and we need to win to cut the gap. The pressures are the same.

'We know we need to win every game and that means beating Chelsea. If we can do that, only then can we think about the second position as a possibility. At this moment it is more important to talk on the pitch.'

Benitez must decide his striking formation. He will surely not use three front men as he did at Watford and instead select two from Peter Crouch, Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt.

He must also decide whether a youthful Daniel Agger is preferred to Sami Hyypia at the back.

Benitez said: 'If we can beat Chelsea, then we can also talk of the top, why not? But we have to win first.

'For us to win this game will be a boost for the rest of the season. We know we are really close and then people will start talking about the Premier League or second position. It will give us more focus.

'It is an important weekend for us because the other major game is Arsenal against Manchester United. For the top four it is a very crucial time, these results are so important for us all.'