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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jan 21, 2007

Gerrard keeps the lid on Liverpool title talk

Liverpool's pantomime season is over and the big two in the Premiership know the men from Anfield are 'right behind you.'

Manager Rafael Benitez was vilified a couple of weeks back after two hugely embarrassing cup defeats by Arsenal.

The 6-3 debacle in the Carling Cup was the last time the Anfield fans had seen their men in action prior to Saturday's overpowering of champions Chelsea.

Now the talk is off stealing the runners-up spot or even - and it is no more than a whisper - sneaking up on Manchester United at the top of the table.

Skipper Steven Gerrard, who produced a disciplined, controlled midfield display, tried to keep title talk in perspective, saying: 'It's a massive result, but we still have a lot of work to do.

'Any result at home is a good one for us but against the champions it's extra special.

'It's a big result for us, but we're still third and we still have a lot to do. All we can do is make sure we do the same things again in the next match.'

Asked whether Liverpool were now contenders for the title, Gerrard added: 'I don't want to provide any headlines. The gap is still massive but all we can do is concentrate on ourselves and hope for more slip-ups ahead of us.'

But the belief that miracles can happen was evident from Jermaine Pennant, who struck a cracker for his first goal for the club.

The winger said: 'I was pleased with a goal like that for my first for Liverpool, it was very special.

'Now we are in with a chance. We have the best home record of any club in the division so anyone who comes here knows they are in for a tough time.

'We have Manchester United and Arsenal still to play at Anfield and after this we are very confident. They will find it very difficult and if we can continue to keep playing like we did against Chelsea then we can close on the top two.'

For Benitez, the best league result of his 31 months at Anfield vindicated the rotation policy used to keep players fresh for just such an eventuality as beating Chelsea.

And he had high praise for Gerrard's intelligent leadership, saying: 'Against Chelsea you must control midfield, they have weaknesses out wide but not in the middle. Gerrard did just that, the key was Stevie, Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt working back, in these central areas.

'Stevie likes to get into the box and it is more difficult for him to wait and stay in the midfield role, but he knows what to do and did a very good job.

'It was a fine team performance, but I was pleased that Fabio Aurelio and (Jermaine) Pennant played so well. People have been critical of them, but this game showed how good they are and how well they worked for the team.'

Benitez would not be drawn into a debate about the title, but he knows Liverpool are putting pressure on the top two.

He said: 'If we want to be at the top, if you want to be a contender and have opportunities to do something at the top and to have a chance of winning titles, you must beat your main rivals.

'It is very important to beat the best teams. We have done that in cups and not always in the league, but this results shows what we are capable of.

'If we had lost the gap would have been 11 points between the teams, now it is just five. We have stopped them taking three points and made sure we had them. That makes such games worth six points.'

He added: 'We did not know beforehand who Chelsea were going to play at the back, we'd heard rumours but decided to ignore them and think only of our plans.

'But we did know that Chelsea may struggle in the air and Crouch proved to be the key while Kuyt was strong and a good runner.

'Chelsea are a top side and professionally we wanted to beat the best players. Added to that, they were second in the table and we knew we had to win to close the gap.

'Now we are five points behind and we know it is a long race and there is plenty that can still happen. We knew all this beforehand, it affected how we approached things.

'We are in a good position now, and that just reminds me of what I said a few weeks ago when we were being criticised. I knew my squad was strong and I had confidence in them.'