Gerrard will stay for the next decade, says Benitez

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Rafael Benitez prepared for his first Merseyside derby with a bold prediction which Liverpool fans will hope comes true - that Steven Gerrard will be at the club for another 10 years.

Rafael Benitez prepared for his first Merseyside derby with a bold prediction which Liverpool fans will hope comes true - that Steven Gerrard will be at the club for another 10 years.

Liverpool go to Goodison this lunchtime nine points behind Everton, but buoyed by their Champions' League victory over Olympiakos, clinched by Gerrard's stunning goal. At their Melwood training ground yesterday, that strike and the new emphasis it puts on Gerrard's importance was still the main topic of conversation.

"He's a very good player, but he can be better if he works as hard as he's working now," Benitez said. "At the end of his contract here in 10 years, he will be better." That might sound like the best of news for those who have feared that Gerrard might not be at Anfield for another 10 weeks, but his manager made a manful effort to deflect the attention away from him.

"I don't want to talk about Steve," he insisted. "I know he's a Liverpool supporter and a fantastic player, and he wants to be here. He scored a good goal and he is still here."

Benitez, whose previous experience of local derbies is confined to Valencia's games against the lesser lights of Levante, admits to some comprehension problems over this one.

"A lot of children were telling me this morning that we've got to win," he said. "But they talked with Scouse accents, very quick, and I don't understand them." He does, however, understand the significance of the match to both sets of fans. "I read the papers, I watch TV, I listen to the radio, and I know what it means," he said.

"For players and managers, it is important that you must enjoy the situation. All teams want to win all games, but these sorts of games more." Benitez has watched Everton's progress this season with a slightly muted admiration. "They are playing well because they are winning games. They have some qualities that show they have a good manager," he said. "I've talked with David Moyes, and he's a nice person as well as a good manager."

Whether Benitez still thinks that at 2.30 this afternoon could depend on Moyes' declared aim of removing some of the excess aggression Everton have shown in recent derby matches.

Two years ago, Gary Naysmith and David Weir were both sent off as Liverpool won 2-1 at Goodison. And last year's clash was also a stormy affair.

"There have been a few when we've been a bit more aggressive than maybe we should have been," Moyes admitted.

"There's a real will to win, and that desire to fight and compete for everything has maybe hindered us a bit. We've been a little bit too determined to show we can compete.

"Obviously you want players with that aggression, but we'll have to be a bit careful." Moyes would not comment on the appointment of Steve Bennett, a referee with whom Everton have had their problems in the past, but that is bound to play a part in his thinking.

"It's about channelling the aggression in the right direction, because we're desperate to send the fans home with something to be happy about," he said. "We've not beaten them for a while, and it will take more than words to do so, but we're very relaxed, and there's a good feeling, and hopefully it shows in the way we play." For the record, Everton go into the 200th derby without a win under Moyes, without a victory in five years, and without one at Goodison since 1997.

They have rarely gone into the match with a nine-point advantage over their arch rivals, however, and if they win they will be further ahead of Liverpool in the table than they have been for 20 years.

Although Moyes tries to play down the idea that finishing above Liverpool is the be-all-and-end-all, he does admit to wanting to manage the top team in the city. "That's still a distant ambition," he said, "to be the top club on Merseyside, because of the resources available to Liverpool, but we're having a hell of a go at trying to bridge the gap with very little, and we'll have to do that again tomorrow."

Benitez picked out Thomas Gravesen and Marcus Bent as the Everton players who have impressed him as a threat so far this season, along with Duncan Ferguson, who has been passed fit after a bang on his knee against Bolton last week, and who will surely epitomise derby day aggression, channelled or otherwise, if he does play.

Benitez's own main decision concerns Milan Baros, who returned for the Olympiakos match after a hamstring injury, but was some way short of full fitness. His manager hinted strongly that he could be reluctant to risk the Czech striker with other, equally important games coming up.

Perhaps, like the Old Derby Arms, the burnt-out pub across the street from Melwood, the Merseyside derby is not quite what it was when such calculations enter the equation.

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