Rafa Benitez and David Moyes 320
HE may have exchanged red for blue and no longer be working just a short distance across the other side of Stanley Park. But Rafael Benitez can expect a familiarly hostile reception when he returns to Goodison tomorrow.
As interim manager of Chelsea, the Spaniard is back in a Merseyside dugout for the first time since being ushered out of the exit at Liverpool more than two years ago.
Having regularly crossed swords during his counterpart’s six-year Anfield stint, David Moyes is relishing the reunion – and a further chance to underline the folly of Benitez’s infamous “small club” jibe.
“I’ve met him many times and we get on fine,” says Moyes. “I’ve got no problems at all.
“I wouldn’t say there’s more incentive to win with it being him. I think Rafa always came to Goodson with a really good team and he is coming with another really good team this week.”
Benitez, though, will never before have come up against such a good Everton team as he will tomorrow.
So stay the statistics, which point to the fact the Goodison outfit’s total of 68 points in the calendar year is bettered only by Manchester rivals United and City.
“I didn’t know that,” admits Moyes. “But that gives you a good idea of how well we’ve played. That shows you how good the season’s been and credit to the players.”
Indeed, Moyes’s tongue was lodged firmly in his cheek when responding to the question of whether he found Benitez’s small club tag motivating. “No,” says the Scot. “I don't think it had any effect whatsoever!”
While Moyes won only three of his 14 derby clashes with Benitez, Everton entertain Chelsea looking to extend an unbeaten home record that stretches back to March and a run of form that has seen only four Premier League defeat in 37 games.
If Tottenham Hotspur fail to win at Sunderland today, victory tomorrow would see Everton leapfrog their opponents into third place.
And Moyes believes Benitez will encounter a Goodison side much improved on the one faced on the Spaniard’s last visit in October 2009, which contained the likes of Jo, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Joseph Yobo.
“I think we’ve moved on but it’s been a slower pace than maybe others do it,” he says. “There have been steps backwards, too.
“At this press conference this time last year, it was ‘How are you doing? Who’ve you brought in? How are you going to move forward?’