25th December 2007
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."