Riera now tougher and wiser

Two years ago Albert Riera had his first taste of English football, but it wasn't quite as sweet as he had hoped, as a five-month loan spell at Manchester City came to nothing.

Albert Riera fights for the ball during Liverpool's 3-1 Champions League win against PSV Eindhoven.
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Two years ago Albert Riera had his first taste of English football, but it wasn't quite as sweet as he had hoped, as a five-month loan spell at Manchester City came to nothing. A derby win against Manchester United capped a memorable debut, but just glimpses of his quality and one goal - against Newcastle - in 15 league games meant Stuart Pearce, the then manager, was not prepared to spend the little money he had available.

The Spaniard admitted he returned to Espanyol a wiser player for the experience, more aware of how to tackle rather than be tackled. The fortunes of Riera and City have certainly changed since then as the left winger returns to Eastlands today in Liverpool colours after a summer move. Riera, 26, aims to show the City faithful just how much he has improved. "It will be a little bit of a special match for me," he said. "I enjoyed my time there of course, but in football these things happen.

"If I had stayed at City then I wouldn't have come here to Liverpool. City is in the past and the most important thing for me is the present. I'm not thinking now of City, the three points are the most important thing." Riera could also line-up directly against his friend and former Espanyol teammate Pablo Zabaleta, who has added some bite to the right side of City's defence. But the Liverpool player added: "It is great Pablo is here and we speak all the time. But once on the pitch there are no friends. I will do my best against City and I have it in my mind to score against them. I want to make progress at Liverpool, to put in good performances and win something. I feel I'm getting better all the time."

City can also do better after their recent patchy form. After successive defeats against Brighton and Wigan, Mark Hughes was relieved by Thursday's 2-1 Uefa Cup win over Omonia Nicosia which saw his side reach the group stage. Liverpool will pose a stiffer test than the Cypriots, however, and show City just what they have to do to break into the league's top four. Hughes admitted the Merseyside club are a team to emulate. "Liverpool have been a top-four side for a number of years now," he said. "I sense that this season they will have a real go at trying to win the Premier League. They look confident, strong and assured. They will run the top teams very close. It is a big test for us as they are playing exceptionally well at the moment."

West Ham had some disappointing news ahead of today's game at Upton Park against Bolton when it was revealed that striker Dean Ashton will not play again until next year after undergoing surgery on an injured ankle. West Ham are short of options up front and are weighing up whether to sign out-of-contract Spanish striker Diego Tristan. The Former Deportivo La Coruna and Mallorca forward Tristan, 32, has been capped 15 times by his country.

The Bolton manager Gary Megson has hailed Zola as the finest foreign import to grace the Premier League. Megson rates the former Chelsea favourite's feats at Stamford Bridge above the achievements of Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry since the formation of the breakaway league in 1992. And he believes the Italian can transmit his success as a player to the managerial dug-out. "If Zola is anywhere near as good a manager as he was a player then he's going to be a class act," said Megson. "He's a good bloke and as a footballer I think he was one of the top three imports that came into the Premier League. You had Bergkamp, Ruud Gullit and Jurgen Klinsmann, who all raised the standard, but I think the top one was Gianfranco Zola."

David Moyes insists there is no crisis at Everton - and is pointing at the table to prove it. Everton have failed to keep a clean sheet so far this term but Moyes says he will not be panicking about the scenario and is using mathematics to back up his argument. He has noted that if Everton beat Newcastle at Goodison Park today, they will have an identical played seven, won three, drawn one and lost three record as this time last term, a season where they finished fifth in the league in what was hailed as a "successful" year.

Newcastle midfielder Danny Guthrie will be back in the Newcastle squad after missing the last three games through suspension after being sent off for kicking out at Hull's Craig Fagan last month. Aston Villa captain Martin Laursen, whose team travel to Chelsea today, said that the Londoners' long unbeaten league record "has to end sometime". Chelsea have not suffered a league defeat at Stamford Bridge for more than four years but Laursen said: "There is just no arguing with the fact that they are immense on home soil - but that unbeaten record has to end sometime and we will go to Stamford Bridge in a positive mood."

* With agencies