Benitez guards against Boxing Day complacency
Rafael Benitez has warned his Liverpool stars they dare not take bottom club Derby lightly on Boxing Day - unless they want to suffer another shock defeat like they did at Reading earlier in the month. On the back of a Fernando Torres-inspired weekend win over Portsmouth, Liverpool can keep the pressure on the four clubs ahead of them with an expected victory at Pride Park. The Reds triumphed 6-0 in the first meeting between the clubs this year but the Spaniard does not want his side to assume it will be as easy again. 'Everyone is expecting us to beat Derby but we have had experience of Reading (where they lost 3-1) so we will have a lot of respect for Derby and will try to win this game,' he said. 'When you play away against a team which is battling relegation it is always very difficult.' Benitez knows also that three good performances in the next week will go a long way to lifting the speculation still hanging over him about his future at Anfield. But he remains happy to continue his controversial rotation policy over the festive period, saying: 'Sometimes you can use the same player, sometimes you use the squad. I like to use the squad because this is the key if you want to reduce the gap (to the teams at the top) - it is using the right players at the right moment. 'When you play four games in 12 days it is such a short time you can change players and they can understand. Sometimes when you play one game a week and you leave six players out of the squad it is more difficult to explain but this situation is easier.' Derby boss Paul Jewell, a lifelong Liverpool fan, realises his team will be up against a top side and backed them to end their 18-year title drought in the near future. 'They'll win it again, I'm sure of that, but I don't think they will do it this season,' said Jewell. 'I think the title race is more exciting this year than it has been because Arsenal and Manchester United are out in front, with Chelsea are on their heels. 'Liverpool are 10 points behind with a game in hand. It can be done, but I can't see them overtaking Arsenal and United. 'But with the investment they have, with the players they've got and those they will bring in, they will get closer and closer.' Chelsea host Aston Villa in an afternoon kick-off and boss Avram Grant is also cautioning against a slip-up. 'We lost against Villa the last time we met them. We didn't play well, even though we played with all of our squad, so we know they are a good, organised team with a good manager,' said Grant. 'It will be a tough match, but we are the home team and, while I don't like the word revenge, we want to win - especially after our defeat there.' Villa chief Martin O'Neill, meanwhile, is ready to battle for a second victory over the Stamford Bridge outfit. 'Chelsea are in a rich vein of form and we need to upset them,' said the former Celtic boss. 'They are obviously playing well at home and they will want to get three points against us. 'But we are fighting for things at the moment, we want to get into Europe and we want those points over the Christmas period.' Birmingham will be hoping striker Cameron Jerome breaks his home duck against Middlesbrough after scoring all five of his goals this season on the road. And Jerome is desperate to prove himself in the top flight. He said: 'It is a dream come true to be playing in the Premier League. I have got to play as hard as I can and work as hard as I can to play my part in trying to make sure that we stay here. 'These next two games are against teams in and around us so if we can pick up more points than them then it should stand us in good stead for January and we can set new targets for then.' Boro boss Gareth Southgate feels for his side's fans who have to travel to the midlands and then Portsmouth if they are to follow the club over the festive period. 'It's not great for the fans because they have got two huge journeys, so in that sense, it is a very strange set of fixtures to throw up,' he said. 'We are fortunate, we are in the posh seats, we can fly to Portsmouth. Most of the fans have got to make their way there, so it's a lot harder for them.'