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Benitez hails Gerrard in wake of marriage gossip

Liverpool Rafael Benitez has saluted his captain Steven Gerrard's form in the wake of rumours about his private life.

Gerrard scored twice against Burnley on Sunday after a week in which allegations surfaced that his marriage to Alex Curran was in trouble. In an interview with OK! magazine she denied there were any problems and Benitez has praised his captain for his professional attitude on the pitch.

Curran said on Tuesday: "There have been loads of rumours going around Liverpool saying that me and Steven have split up, that he's moved into a hotel and ridiculous things like that. This always comes up every couple of years.''

Benitez is hoping the 29-year-old takes his form from Turf Moor into Liverpool's Europa League semi-final second leg with Atletico Madrid at Anfield on Thursday. They trail 1-0 from the first leg and are without star striker Fernando Torres, while David Ngog (hamstring) and Dirk Kuyt (calf) are also major doubts.

"It was important for him to score with all the rumours and he was playing well,'' said Benitez. "I think it has been very good for the team. Now we can concentrate on our game and try to do the best, like Gerrard the other day scoring two goals. We have a lot of belief and everyone is ready so we have to show this on the pitch. If he is a leader on the pitch the rest of the players will follow him.''

Benitez says he hopes Gerrard's positivite attitude at the training ground in recent days can rub off on his team-mates and inspire them to book a place in the final in Hamburg.

"I was talking with the laundry man before I left Melwood and he told me 'I think about the game against Olympiacos','' said the Liverpool boss, referring to Gerrard's stunning late strike which secured the two-goal cushion to allow them to progress out of the group stage and eventually go on to win the Champions League in the 2004/05 season.

"We will take this, 3-1 (the score against the Greeks). The people believe so the staff have to believe and the players have to have belief too. It will be massive to be in another final so I think everyone will be pushing.

"These games are easy for me in terms of preparing the team talk. It is just to give two or three ideas about the game plan and then leave them to it as they are so focused to succeed.

"We have some players with experience in very important games. The main thing will be to push from the pitch and the players have to go there and show character, commitment and quality.''

Atletico have been strengthened by the return of previously suspended Argentina international Sergio Aguero and Benitez is wary of the threat posed by him and first-leg goalscorer and former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan. Conceding an away goal at Anfield would mean Liverpool would have to score three but the manager is confident his side have it in them.

"We know they are very good on the counter-attack and Aguero and Forlan are dangerous because we know both can score goals,'' said Benitez. "We have to work very hard. We had the experience of playing them in the Champions League (last season) and they also beat us in a pre-season friendly.

"But if we can't keep a clean sheet we are ready to score more goals. It is always easier when you have Torres on the pitch but we have Gerrard, Alberto Aquilani, Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun or maybe the defenders. If we attack and create chances we have people who can score.''


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