Benitez won't rule out Reds return

Rafael Benitez has refused to rule out a second coming at Liverpool ahead of his first match on Merseyside as Chelsea boss.

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Rafael Benitez: In charge of Chelsea at

Rafael Benitez: In charge of Chelsea at

Interim Blues manager Benitez has been linked previously with a return to Anfield and will be a free agent again at the end of the season.

Sunday sees Benitez take a team to Merseyside for the first time since he was sacked by Liverpool two-and-a-half years ago when Chelsea visit Everton in the Barclays Premier League.

And asked if he could see himself returning to manage his former club one day, he said: "At the moment, I'm really pleased here.

"I want to keep winning and you never know what can happen in football.

"I have a very good relationship with the fans and the city but I'm a good professional and that means I will give 100 per cent for this club."

Benitez's work ethic has helped him begin to rebuild his reputation as one of the most astute coaches around, the Spaniard having got Chelsea's campaign back on track in recent weeks.

However, his latest comments are unlikely to aid him in his quest to win over Chelsea fans who still see him as the enemy due to his Liverpool connections.

He added ahead of Sunday's game at Goodison Park: "It is always something special when you go back to Liverpool.

"My connection with the city is very strong."

Those links continue, with Benitez's family home still on the Wirral near the city after he decided against relocating them when he joined Inter Milan or when he was appointed to the Chelsea hotseat.

He said: "When you have children, 10 and 14, they have their friends around and have been there for eight years so it is difficult to move the family and you have to do something for them.

"I have to move around on my own and then find a way to be there for Christmas dinner or whatever."

Liverpool have nosedived since sacking Benitez and are on their third manager in that time.

To compound matters, they have also been supplanted as the top team on Merseyside by Everton, who finished above them last season and ended the first half of the current campaign eight points clear of their neighbours.

However, Benitez was almost at pains to avoid discussing whether there had been a power shift in favour of David Moyes' men.

He said: "I cannot say this. What I can say is that Everton are doing well.

"I don't think it is fair for me to talk about one or the other one. I think it is fair for me to say that we are playing Everton and they are doing well.

"Moyes is doing a great job, they have good players and a good team spirit and it will be difficult for us."

Side-stepping another row with Everton is unlikely to spare Benitez the role of pantomime villain when he takes a team to Goodison Park for the first time in more than three years.

The Spaniard is still suffering a backlash from his own club's fans, whose revolt against his appointment was galvanised by criticism they perceived him to have levelled at them while Liverpool boss back in 2007.

That was also the year Benitez branded Everton one of the Premier League's "smaller teams", something that provoked a furious response from Liverpool's arch-rivals.

Benitez was the subject of plenty of unpleasant chants from Toffees fans during his six years at Anfield and he was not expecting an easy ride this weekend.

Everton have also made themselves Chelsea's bogey-team, having won the sides' past three league meetings at Goodison Park.

But Benitez has won on his past three league visits there and goes on the back of six wins from seven games.

He said of his own impact on his players: "We are adjusting things but, at the same time, we are giving them freedom to do things in the way they want to do.

"I think we have a good balance and you can see they are keen to learn and that is the main thing for a manager."


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