Benitez demands perfection against Villa

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The Independent Football

Aston Villa's last appearance at Anfield was the moment when many on Merseyside thought that, finally, the championship might be coming home.

On the same March weekend that Manchester United lost at Craven Cottage, Martin O'Neill's side was demolished 5-0, cutting the champions' lead to a single point. It was in the middle of Liverpool's run of 10 wins in 11 games, in which they scored 34 times to finish the season with 86 points – their highest tally since 1988.

And yet it says something for Rafael Benitez's perfectionism that he did not consider this rout of O'Neill's side the best display of last season and argued that they would have to improve on it to win the Premier League.

"I am not trying to be arrogant but I think we could do better," Benitez said on the eve of Villa's return to Anfield. "That game was good – we scored five goals, kept a clean sheet and could have scored more – but I would still like to do better."

However, after a traumatic first 45 minutes of the new campaign, that saw Tottenham break through almost at will, the Liverpool manager's chief concern has been to shore up his defence with the limited funds available. The signing of AEK Athens' hulking defender, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, may have come too late for him to be involved against Aston Villa tonight, which would mean Martin Skrtel performing alongside Jamie Carragher with a cracked jaw. Nevertheless, it is the man behind the back four whom Benitez sees as vital to Liverpool's championship chances as anyone else, including Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

"For me he is the best keeper in the Premier League," Benitez said of Pepe Reina (right). "Over the course of a season, he is the kind of goalkeeper who can win you titles.

"It is important for Liverpool to have a fantastic goalkeeper because, usually, you are not involved in the game too much. We need Pepe to be focused and concentrated because he will have one or two big saves to make during a game and now he is more mature and relaxed than when we first signed him.

"When you are at the top of the Premier League and are attacking all the time, you know that one save can make all the difference. Edwin van der Sar did it for Manchester United last season and Pepe can do it for us."