Liverpool about to face off against rival Everton


Sun, Mar 20, 2005 - Page 23

There's far more at stake than local pride when Liverpool hosts neighbor Everton today.

The Toffees hold fourth place in the Premier League and have a seven-point lead over fifth-place Liverpool in the race for a spot in next year's Champions League.

Rafael Benitez' Liverpool is going strong in this season's Champions League and, on Friday, drew Juventus in the quarterfinals. His team also has home advantage on Sunday but badly needs to beat its neighbor to trim Everton's lead to four points.

Benitez, who led Valencia to the Spanish league and UEFA Cup titles last season, was furious that his star-studded strikeforce of Fernando Morientes and Milan Baros failed to hit the target in a poor 0-0 tie with Blackburn at Anfield on Wednesday.

Czech striker Baros, who was the top scorer at Euro 2004, has scored just three times in his last 16 games for Liverpool.

"We know we need to score more goals, but to do that you must create more openings," Benitez said. "Crosses, set pieces, we tried them all but we know we must win the ball more around the box and that will give us more options.

"Milan has played with a strike partner and played well, as well as playing on his own. His problem was that he could not find space. The problem is that without space he cannot be as effective, whether it is on his own or with Morientes."

While Liverpool is a four-time European Cup winner and holds the record of 18 league titles, it has been trailing Everton all season. David Moyes' Toffees have been in the top four for most of the campaign in marked contrast to last season's relegation struggle. But the Everton manager has been trying to play down the importance of Sunday's game at Anfield.

Everton has not finished above Liverpool since it won the last of its nine league titles in 1987.

"I am doing my best to play everything down," Moyes said. "We are in a comfortable position right now and whatever happens on Sunday we know we will still be in fourth place, the position we have held almost all season.

Chelsea is chasing its first league title in 50 years.