Rafael Benitez expects Liverpool to shrug off the dual distractions of takeover talk and Steven Gerrard’s court appearance by gaining revenge over Everton in the FA Cup on Sunday.
After plotting a serene course through the first half of the season, Benitez has endured a turbulent period that threatens to blow his plans for domestic and European glory to pieces.
Benitez’s astonishing rant at Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson earlier this month hinted that the Liverpool manager was starting to feel the strain of challenging for the title.
The Spaniard followed that outburst by admitting he had rejected Liverpool’s offer of a new contract.
Then George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the Premier League side’s American owners, made it clear they are ready to start a potentially distracting auction after the Kuwait-based Al-Kharafi family reportedly expressed interest in launching a 500 million pounds takeover.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Gerrard’s alleged involvement in a nightclub brawl resulted in a high profile court appearance on Friday at which the Liverpool captain pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and affray.
Although Benitez says otherwise, it is surely no coincidence that Liverpool’s results have suffered in recent weeks.
The frustration of a draw at Stoke followed Tim Cahill’s late equaliser for Everton in last Monday’s Merseyside derby has left Liverpool licking their wounds behind new Premier League leaders United.
But at the end of another emotionally draining week, Liverpool have a chance to get back on track by beating their local rivals at Anfield.
“We are in a very good position in all the competitions and really focused on football. We know things can happen around the club. But at the end we have to come to work, to train and to be ready for the next game,” Benitez said.
“The atmosphere inside the training ground is fine. We do not have problems here. The players are working together, and there are no problems between them.
“All I can say is that we know we must win. We must progress in all the competitions. It will be difficult against Everton, so we must focus on only what happens on the pitch.”
Gerrard trained on Friday after his court date and is expected to play some part in the first FA Cup Merseyside derby for 18 years.
Benitez will still make several changes however as he rests players ahead of Wednesday’s league trip to Wigan and goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri could start along with Andrea Dossena, Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun and Lucas.
“Steven is in the right frame of mind. He scored a few goals in five-a-side and he is very positive and okay for the match,” Benitez said.
“We were disappointed not to win against Everton on Monday; we were leading until the final minutes and we must not allow ourselves to make the sort of mistakes we made in those last minutes.
“We feel we have the quality to win this second match with Everton. We want to get to the final again – the experience we had winning the Cup in 2006 was wonderful.”
Everton boss David Moyes would rather not have faced Liverpool again so soon after Monday’s draw.
“I don’t think either of the clubs would have wanted the draw when it came out but we are looking forward to it,” he said. “Obviously when it is a derby it adds even more spice to it.
“We think we can play better than we did in midweek. I don’t think it (Cahill’s late goal) gives any advantage. It is a different game completely for both of us.
“I think Rafa will have a big decision because he has a lot of players to pick from and when you have lots of players it causes you problems because you have to give them games.”
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