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Jan 19, 2009

Rafa says wrangles have not altered focus

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has told his players they must put everything which has happened in the last week behind them and focus on their Merseyside derby with Everton. The manager has rejected a contract extension while Manchester United have overtaken them as Premier League leaders.

Victory over Everton would put the Anfield club back on top and Benitez believes that is the only thing the players should be concentrating on.

Benitez went public with his contract rejection on Friday.

The stumbling block appears to be his desire to have full control over transfers, including spending, wages and terms and conditions.

However, he does not believe the wrangle has overshadowed Monday night's match.

"It is not affecting preparations for the game," stressed the Spaniard, who last week had a third, and hopefully final, kidney stones operation.

"I want to be focused on the game because we know that is the most important thing.

"Playing against Everton is something different. The atmosphere in the stadium is really good.

"Every single year you can understand the rivalry more and what it means for everyone here so it is a game you want to win.

"Hopefully we will win and it will be a fantastic game and normally that means more confidence for the team."

Midfielder Xabi Alonso is set to return after missing the Stoke match with a foot injury while right-back Alvaro Arbeloa is in contention after missing four matches with a hamstring injury.

Compatriot Fernando Torres is in line for a place in the starting line-up after two substitute appearances following recovery from a similar problem.

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