EVERTON boss David Moyes has warned Liverpool that the side standing in their way at Anfield today are of top-four quality.
Liverpool, one of the pre-season title favourites, are facing a serious battle to retain their place among the Barclays Premier League’s traditional leading quartet this season.
Rafael Benitez’s side have fallen behind Chelsea, Manchester Untied and Arsenal and must now deal with fierce competition from Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City for the fourth Champions League spot.
And Moyes, who was yesterday named manager of the month for January, believes Everton would also have been up there challenging had injuries not ravaged the first half of their campaign.
“We have got a really good group of players,” said Moyes, who reaches the landmark of 600 games in management this weekend. “We have a squad I think could have competed for a place in the top four – but obviously we have been working with half a squad for most of the year.
“We will just have to see what we can do in the second half of the season after a disappointing first half.”
Everton’s season is now starting to turn around with Moyes’ men now up to ninth on the back of a nine-game unbeaten league run.
Moyes attributes the upturn in form to the return to action of several players and he has close to a full squad available for the short trip across Stanley Park.
Playmaker Mikel Arteta is the latest name to return after a groin strain interrupted his comeback from a serious knee injury, while Joseph Yobo and Ayegbeni Yakubu are back from the African Nations Cup. Loan signings Philippe Senderos and Landon Donovan have also added competition for places and Moyes feels momentum is building at the right time.
He said: “We have picked up in the last couple of months. It has been really good and the players have been performing really well.
“They have played well in the games and shown a real desire to win them. I’m really pleased with how they have been going.
“I think it is because of competition – players coming back from injury – and I think players are finding form as well and doing it at the same time. I wish they had done that earlier but I will take it while it is going.”
Meanwhile, Toffees striker Louis Saha has signed a two-year contract extension which will keep him at the club until the summer of 2012.
The 31-year-old Frenchman’s current deal was due to expire this summer and he was attracting interest from a number of clubs.
However, he has opted to extend his stay with the Toffees having joined from Manchester United in 2008.
“It was an easy decision. You always think carefully but it didn’t take me long to know I wanted to stay because I have enjoyed my time here and I want to be part of the future of Everton,” he said.
“It is a pleasure and an honour to stay here. At certain stages in your career you look at where you are going and by staying at Everton I feel I am going up in my career.”
Moyes said he never doubted the Frenchman would agree to stay.
“A lot of stupid nonsense has been written about Louis. We have always felt quite confident Louis would sign a new contract,” he said.
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