Rafael Benitez puts Claudio Ranieri friendship to side for Premier League clash

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Everton manager Rafael Benitez will have to put his long friendship with Watford boss Claudio Ranieri to one side when their sides clash at Goodison Park this weekend.

The pair first met around a quarter of a century ago when Benitez sought Ranieri’s advice as he began his own managerial career and they have remained friends ever since.

Despite both men enjoying lengthy careers in the dugout, they have only faced each other on a handful of occasions, the most recent being a goalless draw at St James’ Park in December 2018 when Benitez was in charge of Newcastle and Ranieri managing Fulham.

A share of the spoils might keep the pair happy on Saturday, although Everton will be keen to bounce back from last weekend’s home loss to West Ham and the Hornets are in need of points to climb the Premier League table following a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool in Ranieri’s first game in charge.

“I first met him between 1993 and 1997 – I don’t remember the exact year – when I went to see him when he was the manager of Fiorentina,” Benitez said of Ranieri.

“He treated me really well so I have a good relationship with Claudio and we have been friends since then.

“He came to visit me later on at Liverpool and I think he’s a very good manager, a very good person and a good friend.

“I’ve known him a long time and he’s always had energy, he loves football so he has passion. It’s not a surprise that he can be available and manage in the Premier League (at the age of 70) because he has a great record here.

“I’m happy to see him back because he is someone with experience and can give something to the Premier League.”

The defeat to West Ham – which was Everton’s first at home this season – prevented them from moving into the top four and also came at the cost of a foot injury to influential midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure.

Doucoure joins England striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin on the sidelines and Yerry Mina is also unavailable to face Watford after sustaining a hamstring injury in training.

However, Richarlison is available again after missing the last five games and Benitez is satisfied with his side’s start to the season considering their injury issues.

“I think it’s been good when you consider the top scorers are not available and still the team is in a good position and still creating chances,” he added.

“It’s a pity that the other day, that we had chances and maybe a draw could be more fair and then we would be in the top four, but it’s like that and I am quite confident that we will do well now, and I’m quite confident that we will do well at the end of the season when it’s the most important thing in maybe the last 10 games.

“Doucoure is someone who has a lot of energy; how can we replace him with someone that will have the same passion, motivation and hopefully the same energy?

“But the main thing is to ensure they will go on the pitch and try to do their best for the team. I am sure that the player that will play in his position will do it.”

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