Rafa returns to Reebok

Bolton has never been a happy hunting ground for Rafael Benitez, who suffered his first defeat on English soil there and was a loser last term at the Reebok stadium.

Bolton has never been a happy hunting ground for Rafael Benitez, who suffered his first defeat on English soil there and was a loser last term at the Reebok stadium.

So when the Liverpool boss takes his faltering outfit to Bolton on Sunday for a crucial Barclays Premier League clash, he will know the Anfield men are in for a hard time.

Benitez never liked the style of former Trotters’ boss Sam Allardyce, and suffered a 0-1 defeat in his first visit to the Reebok.

In 2005-06 Liverpool managed a 2-2 draw, but last term it was another defeat, this time 2-0.

And the fact that the manager at Bolton has changed, Gary Megson now being in control, will not see much of a difference in style from the home team.

But this time, more than ever, it is a game Liverpool just have to win. Their Sunday match is a lunch-time start, and any slip-up will give Everton all the incentive they need against Portsmouth later in the day in the battle for fourth spot.

If Liverpool lose this one, and Everton win, the gap between fourth and fifth spot will be six points.

Everton will have 10 games left and Liverpool 11 with the Merseyside derby at Anfield still to come on March 30.

Benitez, who will have Jamie Carragher back from suspension to play his 350th league match for the Anfield club, seems certain to make very few changes now from the side that beat Middlesbrough last weekend.

Even the Reds’ infamous rotation policy could well be scaled down as the Spaniard needs results immediately.

He said: “I think so. It will depend on the players in the end, but we can keep some players playing more games now.” Benitez watched a quartet of senior men in the reserves’ 2-0 win over Manchester United’s second string earlier in the week.

They included defender Daniel Agger, back after five months out with a metatarsal injury, who could well come into the squad at the Reebok. Also likely to be available is £6.5m centre-back Martin Skrtel, who has missed the last three games with a calf problem.

Xabi Alonso and Harry Kewell both completed full 90 minutes in front of a 10,000-plus crowd at Warrington, and are also pushing for a recall.

“It was good for Agger to get some minutes on the pitch and we decided before the game that he would play the first half and Skrtel would play the second,” said Benitez.

“Agger did well and now we will have to see how he is for the rest of the week. When you have been out for a long time you have to be careful and you cannot rush back because if you come back too early you can have some problems.

“But Agger did well and it was good to see him back playing football again.”

Meanwhile, Tom Hicks claimed last night he has the power to block any attempt by Liverpool co-owner George Gillett to sell his half of the club.

It is believed American businessmen Hicks and Gillett have suffered a breakdown in their relationship and Dubai International Capital remain determined to secure a controlling interest at Anfield.

With Hicks refusing to budge, publicly at least, DIC are considering making a bid for Gillett’s stake.

But Hicks told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Not only am I not going to sell, my partner cannot sell without my approval.”

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox