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Rafa Under Pressure

By Jeremy Wilson and Mark Ogden
Last Updated: 12:57am GMT 09/02/2008

Avram Grant's quiet revolution at Stamford Bridge has centred on a dramatically contrasting managerial style to his predecessor, and this change is most striking when the Israeli assesses his rivals.

While Jose Mourinho once dismissed Liverpool's league results under Rafael Benitez as a record that would probably have left him jobless at Chelsea, Grant opted for diplomacy ahead of a fixture with its share of controversy in recent seasons.

Rafael Benitez under pressure to produce Chelsea win
Faltering season: Rafael Benitez is at a loss to explain Liverpool's title challenge this campaign

"In Spain, Benitez did a good job and also here at Liverpool," said Grant. "Some people say that you are only as good as your last game. I don't agree - he did a good job.

"I think in England it is harder than ever. The demand for results and expectation is more. I have nothing against other clubs. I think it is good for every person not to fight against something and fight for himself."

Grant can afford to be generous just now. While he has exceeded expectations by overseeing a run of just two defeats in 31 games, Benitez has been left trying to explain another faltering title challenge.

Seventeen points adrift of league leaders Arsenal and 11 points short of third-placed Chelsea, albeit with a game in hand, is simply not up to requirements at Anfield and, even without the distracting sideshow caused by squabbles between Benitez and the club's American owners, the 2005 Champions League triumph in Istanbul now appears a long time ago.

Yesterday, he admitted that the challenge now was to win a place in the Champions League. "Why have we not performed better in the league? Trying to talk just about football, you can see that the other teams have spent big money as well, but sometimes the expectations go against you," said Benitez. "Everybody thought we could be contenders or win the league, and as soon as we weren't winning as many games or were a bit off the top of the table, everybody became a little bit nervous.

"We are fighting for fourth position and if we beat Chelsea we can think about maybe third position. But if we don't, we are running out of games and it would be much more difficult."

Grant's Premier League ambitions are rather more lofty, and he is satisfied to be only six points adrift of leaders Arsenal now that injuries are easing and the African Cup of Nations is coming to an end.

Frank Lampard has trained this week and is available, although it is expected that Michael Ballack will start tomorrow's match as the preferred attacking midfielder. Lampard has not played since Boxing Day.

John-Obi Mikel is also available, returning from the African Cup of Nations aiming to improve his disciplinary record. He has been sent off four times at Chelsea.

Chelsea were further boosted by the return to training yesterday of captain John Terry, who is expected to be ready to play following his foot injury in around three weeks.

Liverpool must cope with the loss of Fernando Torres after their leading goalscorer suffered a torn hamstring on international duty in midweek, while Javier Mascherano's well-being following a gruelling 12-hour flight back from Los Angeles on Friday morning is another concern for Benitez.

The Spaniard believes that "small details" will prove crucial tomorrow, although the omens are hardly encouraging. He is yet to taste victory at Stamford Bridge since arriving at Anfield in July 2004, while Chelsea are aiming to stretch their unbeaten League home record to four years.

However, Grant admitted that the Chelsea players would not forget the two Champions League semi-final defeats against Liverpool and suggested that the unbeaten home record was not something he particularly wanted his players to think about.

"Any record is good, sometimes it can affect you, most of the time it is positive," he said. "But until the game against Everton, in the last nine home games, six of them were draws. I don't know, but maybe you can come to the last 10 or 15 minutes and, if it is a draw, you are afraid to lose which I don't want."

GameZone: Chelsea v Liverpool Kick-off: Tomorrow 4pm

Touchline duel: Avram Grant v Rafael Benitez

Two of the less charismatic managers in the Premier League, although their respective career records both command great respect.

Avram Grant lifted 10 trophies in Israeli club football, while Rafa Benitez has won five major trophies at Valencia and Liverpool, including La Liga and the Champions League. Both are keen students of the worldwide game

Key battles: Nicolas Anelka v Jamie Carragher

With Didier Drogba not expected back from the Africa Cup of Nations until next week, Anelka (pictured) will carry Chelsea's main attacking threat.

Carragher can match the Frenchman aerially and for physical strength, but could be troubled by his pace and movement. 1Liverpool wins in their last six League games

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