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Rafa Relishing Anfield Return

It's a bittersweet homecoming for an ex-manager, but Rafa Benitez and his masked band of west Londoners will be avoiding all sentimentality in their quest to steal three points on Sunday.

"Put your mask on, maybe they won't recognize you."
"Put your mask on, maybe they won't recognize you."
Michael Regan

With all the awkwardness of a much loved ex-uncle visiting the family of which he's technically no longer a member, Rafa Benitez returns to Anfield for the first time as an opposition manager in what is sure to be an emotionally confusing day for all involved.

Benitez's short tenure at Chelsea has been a little more rocky than he would have hoped, with the London club's ups and downs giving rise to jokes about Benitez secretly being a double agent for Liverpool. Add to this the Spaniard's unabashed love for LFC, and you're left with a dramatic point of conversation for salivating media who might hope that affection for a former club would somehow outweigh the obligation of doing one's job competently on match day.

"My family have been living there for six years, and I'm really pleased to be going there to see old friends," Rafa was quick to point out ahead of Sunday's match, reminding everyone that there are non-footballing reasons why he's exited to return to Liverpool. "I want to win (at Liverpool). Afterwards, if they can win all their games, that will be fantastic. I will be professional. I want to win that game."

It would be hard for Rafa to endear himself any less to the Chelsea faithful than by openly wishing Liverpool take twelve of their last available fifteen points, but it's a gesture that will likely be received positively by the crowd at Anfield on the weekend. A simple acknowledgement by the Kop of Rafa's contributions would suffice on Sunday, if only to keep a sense of perspective that although he may be a beloved figure, Benitez will be occupying the visiting manager's seat in the dugout.

A match against Chelsea is always an occasion, and for Brendan Rodgers it represents an opportunity to prove himself against the man many hoped would be appointed after Kenny Dalglish was sacked. For a manager who has to endure fans and media alike manufacturing a rivalry between him and Rafa that does not actually exist, Rodgers could go a long way toward silencing his harshest critics by taking all three points on Sunday.

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