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By ESPN Staff

Gerrard is unaware of his full potential - Benitez

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez believes his skipper Steven Gerrard does not fully realise how good he can become.

But Benitez now sees a growing maturity in Gerrard that will also benefit England and the much-maligned partnership with Frank Lampard.

Liverpool are preparing to face Manchester City at Anfield, intent on protecting their 13-month unbeaten home league record.

Gerrard had his best game of the season in the midweek Champions League defeat of PSV Eindhoven, and saw him net only his second goal of the campaign.

And Benitez is aware Gerrard, now back in his favoured central midfield role, feels he is close to his best.

But not in the eyes of the Spanish boss, who said: 'He can score goals, win the ball in the air, be good at set pieces, everything. When he says he is close to his best, maybe he does not know his true potential.

'He is improving a lot, he is maturing and thinking about the game. That will not only help us but also the England team. He will be able to form a better partnership with Frank Lampard because he is becoming more mature and more aware of what he should be doing.'

It is this understanding of his midfield role that Benitez sees as the key to Gerrard's long-term development.

Previously Benitez had doubts about the timing of Gerrard's surges from midfield and the dangers they cause to an exposed defence but now believes the 26-year-old is learning.

'I really think Steven is an amazing player, he is always thinking about what he can do, he has such quality that he is a player you cannot stop,' Benitez added.

'He is always thinking now about how he can improve the team, he is capable of doing that.

'He can still improve. I say to him he needs to know his team-mates and the players he has in front of him. If we play with two wingers and two strikers, he must concentrate and be careful all the time because when he goes forward into the box, that can leave gaps behind.

'His strength is getting into the box. We saw that many times last season and this week against PSV. He must do this, he is so good at it.

'But he must also think about what he does. He must concentrate and be aware all the time what is going on around him. If we do not have a holding midfield player he knows he cannot run into the box as much as he would like.

'He must be careful. I have told him he must go forward but he must also be aware of what is happening behind his runs.

'He said he was close to his best, but I do not think so. He is much better but his potential is so high he can improve much more.'

With Liverpool hit by injuries to Mark Gonzalez, Mohamed Sissoko, Xabi Alonso, Stephen Warnock and Fabio Aurelio, the onus is very much on Gerrard taking on the responsibilities of leadership.

Benitez says: 'Steven can score a lot of goals because he has that quality. He now has greater confidence, he can score all sorts of goals.

'It has been difficult for him because he hasn't been scoring and everybody all the time is talking about it. Do not forget we are talking about young men, you try to support them but the player needs to produce his best level on the pitch.

'Maybe he has been worried, but he has trained really hard, worked at the problem and I am really happy for him. Steve knows as captain he must set an example.'

Jermaine Pennant (hamstring) has a chance of playing against City, and Benitez believes the top sides should have more time to recover from midweek European games.

He says: 'I cannot understand why if you have played on the Wednesday you must then play again on the Saturday, rather than the Sunday which gives you more time to recover from injuries. In Spain this is normal.

'You must protect the top sides who are in Europe, because their success is good for the country. But they should not be penalised by having to play the next Saturday.

'You should be proud of teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and ourselves in the last 16 of the Champions League. It is good for the Premier League and for England.

'Why do we not protect the top sides? It would be better for everybody.'