Portsmouth vs Liverpool: Big Match preview

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Portsmouth boss Avram Grant refuses to read too much into Liverpool's indifferent run of form - but admits he would love to retain his unbeaten record against Rafael Benitez.

The Reds travel to Fratton Park Saturday lunchtime to face the Barclays Premier League's bottom club.

Defender Younes Kaboul returns from a one-game ban but there are doubts over the fitness of goalkeeper David James, who sat out his side's 2-1 loss at Chelsea on Wednesday night with the calf problem which has troubled him for much of the season.

Asmir Begovic stands by to replace him, but striker Frederic Piquionne should be fit despite limping out at Stamford Bridge with cramp.

While Liverpool are sixth in the standings, Pompey have matched them for form in recent weeks as both sides have taken four points from their last three games.

Grant goes into the match with an unbeaten record against Benitez, having achieved two wins and two draws against Liverpool in all competitions during his stint as Chelsea boss in 2007/08.

The Israeli said: "Liverpool deserve to be in the top four - they are a very good team. There is never a good time to play a big team.

"Of course, my record against him (Benitez) is a record I would like to keep. But it's not easy to play against his teams.

"He's very tactical and he knows what he is doing. I must admit that it was always very difficult to play against him with Chelsea."

One concern for Grant going into the festive period remains the club's transfer embargo.

They have been blocked from signing players by the Premier League until they pay off debts to Chelsea and Arsenal for the signings of Glen Johnson and Lassana Diarra respectively.

But Grant is hopeful the ban will be lifted in time for him to strengthen his side in the January transfer window.

He said: "I've had no news at the moment but I have a feeling it will be okay. I think the board know exactly what we need to make the team better and they know what they need to do.

"I need to take care of the problems and situation on the pitch and they need to take care of this problem.

"I think they are doing their best and I have a feeling everything will be okay.

"With the African Nations Cup coming, we will need three or four players. I know what players I want."

Liverpool defender Glen Johnson, who left Pompey to move to Anfield in the summer, has been passed fit to face his former club after being troubled by a hamstring injury.

Striker Fernando Torres is likely to start having come off the bench to score against Wigan in midweek but winger Albert Riera still has a hamstring problem and is not fit. Forward Ryan Babel returns to the squad after an ankle injury.

Bootle-born centre-back Jamie Carragher is set to make his 600th appearance for the club he joined as a schoolboy at Fratton Park.

Carragher worked his way through the Academy and an apprenticeship to make his debut on January 8 1997.

But with football having gone global in the intervening years Benitez believes Carragher's achievements will be almost impossible to replicate.

"Maybe someone will do it but it will be very difficult. Now there is too much money around the world in football," said the Liverpool manager.

"If you have a good player normally someone will make a good offer and the agents have too much power.

"Modern football is more difficult so 600 games in a top side for a local player is a massive achievement."

Benitez has overhauled the academy at Liverpool in the hope the club can unearth more local prospects who can follow in the footsteps of Carragher - who is already the club's European appearance record holder - and captain Steven Gerrard.

He believes having home-grown, talented players is an addition bonus.

"For me as a manager - for any manager - to have local players coming through the system is easier and better but it is more difficult in modern football," he added.

"You have a lot of scouts watching games but it would be really good for us."

While much of the focus has been on Carragher's landmark appearance, Benitez has been concentrating on planning for victory against Pompey to maintain the momentum created by Wednesday's win over Wigan.

"Portsmouth is a tricky game because it is a Saturday early kick-off," said the Spaniard.

"They have had problems but now with Avram Grant they have a manager with experience and they did well against Chelsea (in a 2-1 midweek defeat)."

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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