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By ESPN Staff

Benitez demands improvement in Gerrard's form

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has questioned Steven Gerrard's form after two worrying defeats in the opening three games of the season.

Defeats at Tottenham and at home to Aston Villa means Liverpool have lost as many league games in a fortnight as they did all last season.

After Monday's 3-1 loss to Villa, Benitez queried the collective lack of responsibility amongst his senior men. The Spaniard has been careful not to be too critical of Gerrard, accepting that even an ordinary Gerrard is better than most midfielders on the planet.

But ahead of Saturday's difficult trip to Bolton, Benitez has gone one step further. He said: "We have seen Steven playing really well for a while now. He is one of our big names, a key player. He will continue to be that. He will know that he has played a couple of games that are not up to his best level.

"But because he so often plays really well, people maybe can see the difference. I know he will be ready now. The players are not stupid, they know when they are not playing well and not up to their best standard. He knows, everybody knows here, that we have to improve.''

Benitez dismissed the theory that Gerrard's form has suffered after a difficult summer for the midfielder, involving a court case and acquittal following a night club incident last term. He said: "For Steven that has not been a problem. I was not naming any particular player when I was critical after the defeat by Villa.

"But it is clear that everyone has to improve, we have analysed things and we have talked to all the players. The reaction from them has been very good. They have to show character and they have been working really hard during the week because that is the only way to change things.

"The team wants to show that we are good enough (to challenge for the title). But we know we can improve and I can guarantee that the players will be fighting hard from the very first minute. We were so close last season to the title and now people are expecting us to win lots of games in a row. But the Premier League is very difficult.

"We have to forget our mistakes and try to improve quickly, and try to play to the level we did last season. The team and staff know we are not doing well and have to improve. This is very clear. The players have responded by training hard to try to rectify the situation.

"The attitude has been good and we have to play well at Bolton and start the game well. Then we will be able to change things. We have lost two games and we are very disappointed, but now we have the chance to change everything.

"We have lost to two of the clubs who will be chasing the top four, Villa and Spurs, and there are good teams now trying to get into the top four. It will be more difficult for top sides now to win every game.''

New signing Sotirios Kyrgiakos played for the reserves on Thursday and is in line for his league debut at Bolton. The Greek international played 45 minutes of the 3-2 defeat to Blackburn and, with concerns still over Martin Skrtel's jaw injury, the centre-back could play at the Reebok.

The 30-year-old, signed last week from AEK Athens for £2million, has won titles with Rangers and Panathinaikos. He said: "I have a little experience of winning titles from my previous career in Greece and in Scotland.

"I won one title with Panathinaikos and two in Scotland when I played with Rangers. I hope that the experiences I had in Scotland will help me begin well at Liverpool. I believe that I have the qualities needed to play in the Premier League.

"My time in Scotland will help because it is a similar style of football to here. It is true that the Premier League will be more difficult than the SPL because the game is faster here and there are more quality players.

"In Scotland you had Rangers, Celtic and Hearts and it was very rare for us to lose to anyone - and if we did it was normally to one of those teams. In England, everyone is capable of beating everyone else. I watched a lot of last season's Premier League on TV and Liverpool were very close to the title.

"From what I have seen this season we are equipped to go even better. In my experience of winning titles, you need a great team spirit in the dressing room and I have seen this already among my new team-mates. Everyone works hard and gives everything. That is the most important thing you need for such a long battle as the title race. After that, you need to be brave and have a little bit of luck along the way.''

Benitez, who is concerned that critics have picked on soft targets like teenager Lucas rather than highlighting the failings of senior players they are friendly with, believes a couple of wins will change the atmosphere at Anfield.

He said: "We have a problem because we are losing matches. People can be critical of our system and suggest we have been worked out. But everybody knows all the systems, it is nothing really new.

"It is not systems, it is the players out on the pitch. Maybe we do not have squad depth at the moment and there were youngsters on the bench, but we have three key players to return - Fabio Aurelio, Danny Agger and Alberto Aquilani - and that will make a difference.

"The commitment of the players and the training sessions have been very good. That is the most important aspect. Players will retain their confidence, they will change certain things and go out and prove the squad is good.

"The players accepted my words in the right spirit. They have experience and they know they can improve. They have been listening to me for five years so they know what I feel. They are just waiting now for the chance to play well in the next match.''


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