Rafael Benitez declines to comment on Liverpool ahead of return to Anfield

The Chelsea interim-manager returns for the first time

Rafael Benitez focused only on the immediate future and not his past with Liverpool as he prepared to take his Chelsea side to Anfield in the Barclays Premier League on Sunday.

The Spaniard declined to assess Liverpool since his departure in June 2010 or to talk about events at Anfield ahead of his first return as an opposing manager.

"I have a lot of respect, but I have to concentrate on my team," Benitez said.

"I don't want any misunderstanding, so I will concentrate just on Chelsea and the game and try to enjoy it, especially if we can win."

Benitez is expected to receive a warm welcome in the week which marked both his 53rd birthday and the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

He spent six years at Anfield, helping Liverpool to the 2005 Champions League in his first season, the FA Cup, the Community Shield and European Super Cup, while the Reds finished second in the Premier League in 2008-09.

His family home remains on Merseyside and he supports the campaigners in their fight for justice for the 96 supporters killed at Hillsborough in 1989.

His is a lasting bond with Liverpool, but Benitez's aim is to defeat his former club.

"I'm a professional and I am committed with Chelsea until the end of the season, to win, to achieve our targets," said Benitez, who is out of contract at the end of the campaign.

"I was there for six years, winning a lot of things together.

"They (Liverpool supporters) will appreciate that, but at the same time they will try to support their team and they will understand that I have to try to do my best and win."

Benitez recently was quoted as saying he wanted to return "home" to Liverpool and that his wish was to move to a top club, possibly in England next season.

That was interpreted by some as a possible return to Liverpool, but Benitez meant his family home.

For reasons of clarity, the Spaniard declined the opportunity to appraise Reds incumbent Brendan Rodgers.

"I have a lot of respect for Liverpool Football Club and all their managers," he said.

"What I said clearly is Liverpool is my home, my family is living there and because I don't want any misunderstanding, I will not talk about the club, the position or the manager's position or whatever. My family's there, it's my home."

Benitez was speaking on the day Chelsea returned the European Cup to UEFA ahead of next month's Champions League final at Wembley.

The Blues won the tournament last May - seven years after a controversial semi-final defeat to Liverpool, who Benitez then steered to glory in Istanbul - but their group-stage exit prompted the Spaniard's appointment.

There were numerous duels between the Reds and the Blues for trophies during Benitez's spell at Anfield.

His prior history with Liverpool meant his appointment - short-term though it is - at Stamford Bridge was an unpopular one, but he appears to have reversed the tide of vitriol and the team are well placed as the season draws to a close.

Chelsea enter this weekend's fixtures in third place and in pole position for the final automatic qualifying place for the Champions League group phase - the club's priority - and play Basle in the Europa League semi-final first leg next week.

Placing third and winning the Europa League would likely lead to high demand for Benitez's signature next term.

He is unfazed that his personal situation is still to be resolved.

He said: "I am not worried about the future. The future for me is the next game.

"I don't think about my CV. I think about the targets. The target is to finish in the top four, top three, that is the priority - and if you can win a trophy it would be a bonus."

Victory at Anfield would do much to enhance Chelsea's bid to return to Europe's elite competition next term and earn back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since December.

Captain John Terry scored twice in Wednesday's 3-0 win at Craven Cottage, but is poised to return to the substitutes' bench as Benitez rotates his options with Switzerland in mind.

Terry suffered a knee injury in the reverse fixture in November, prior to Benitez's appointment as successor to Roberto Di Matteo.

Since his return in January, Terry has been a less than central figure, sparking conjecture about disagreements with Benitez.

Terry backed the need for rotation this week, while insisting he is ready, willing and able to play more than once a week.

"We agree 100 per cent," Benitez said.

"He said he can understand if I pick another player and he will be the first one supporting the team. Everything is fine."

PA

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