Benitez concerned by Gerrard slump

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admits Reds captain Steven Gerrard has suffered a disappointing start to the season.

Gerrard was below par in Liverpool's opening weekend defeat at Tottenham and failed to impress again in Monday's surprise home loss to Aston Villa.

The England midfielder gave away a penalty against Villa and showed few glimpses of the dynamic form that has made him one of Europe's top players.

Losing twice in their first three matches means Liverpool have already lost as many league games in a fortnight as they did all last season.

And after slumping against Villa, Benitez queried the collective lack of responsibility amongst his senior men. Now he is expecting a response from Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and company at Bolton on Saturday.

"He (Gerrard) 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," Benitez said.

"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 suggestions that Gerrard's form has suffered after a difficult close-season for the star, who was involved in a court case and acquittal following a night club incident last season.

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 are disappointed to have lost two matches but we have to forget our mistakes and try to improve quickly, and try to play to the level we did last season.

"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 the Greece defender is in line for his league debut at Bolton.

Benitez added: "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."