Thu, Dec 25, 2008 - Page 19 News List

Benitez close to a return to Anfield dugout


Rafael Benitez is close to a return to the Liverpool dugout for tomorrow’s clash against Bolton Wanderers, while star striker Fernando Torres should also be back in action soon.

Liverpool manager Benitez missed Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Arsenal while he recovered from a kidney stones operation, but he is expected to be back on the bench for Bolton’s Boxing Day visit to Anfield.

Benitez’s assistant Sammy Lee hopes his imminent return can provide the perfect boost for Liverpool to finish the year on a high.

“Rafa is a lot better, he’s on the mend. He has been in a lot of pain, but he is improving,” Lee said. “His presence is always missed, but the organization he has put in place is such that, even though he has not been here this week, the battle plan is still there. We know what we have to do, the game plan is there, it is business as usual. He is missed and hopefully he will be back with us for the Bolton game. He is a hands-on manager, it is hurting him more being away from the training ground really, but he will be back soon.”

The Bolton game may be too soon for Torres to return from a hamstring injury that has forced the 24-year-old to miss five matches, but Lee expects him back soon.

“Fernando’s progress has markedly improved. He is getting better. He improves with every training session and he has worked very hard on his rehabilitation,” Lee said. “We will put him in when we see fit, that’s not evasive, but I don’t want to start revealing our line-up.”

Liverpool go into the first of their Christmas fixtures on top of the Premier League and protecting an unbeaten home league record this year.

It is the first time Liverpool have been top at this stage since 1996, and two wins over the holiday period against Bolton and then at Newcastle on Sunday will give them their best points tally in a calendar year for 19 years.

“The lads will be in training on Christmas Day, we have two very important games in three days coming up and they are very professional and accept that they have to have their Christmas at a different time to everyone else,” Lee said. “They know the job in hand, they know what preparation is needed to stay at the top of the Premier League.”

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