Rafael Benitez has stood by his description of Everton as a "small club", delivered four years ago, insisting that his words related only to David Moyes' side's unambitious display against Liverpool in one fixture.
"I didn't want to be disrespectful to the club. I was talking about the way they were playing, not the club," said the 51-year-old, who in a Merseyside derby day interview with The Independent today expresses his desire to return to the top reaches of management, preferably in the Premier League.
The Spaniard's "small club" comments came after the 0-0 draw at Anfield in February 2007. "When we had the meeting with the manager in the boot room and we were having a drink I explained [to David Moyes] what I meant," said Benitez.
Benitez cited Phil Jagielka as one of the players he always thought posed a tough challenge and said that he sees the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea as the three who are "ahead of the others" in this season's Premier League. Chelsea will be buoyed by Fernando Torres, who Benitez considers to be in far better mental and physical shape than last season. Liverpool are in a second tier chasing those three, he believes. "Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal – they all have a very good team [too]. The others have better squads."
Benitez has said that his renewed life in Liverpool, after parting company with Internazionale in December, is temporary. "Whenever people say things about me, it always comes back to Liverpool – but I cannot just become 'the former manager'. I am a professional football manager. I want to talk more about the future than the past."
Kenny Dalglish returns to Goodison in a competitive capacity with Liverpool for the first time since the 4-4 draw which led him to quit as Anfield manager 20 years ago. He may field six Merseyside derby debutants as he seeks to rebuild the squad bequeathed by Benitez and Roy Hodgson. In an attempt to engender team spirit, a night out for players and families was held at Liverpool's Albert Dock on Monday. "Whatever the players do, it comes back to the relationships between each other. If they build that, then we have a better chance," Dalglish said.