Testing time for Liverpool

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The Independent Football

Liverpool are facing up to a title crisis just a few days into a season when they were being hailed as Premier League favourites.

Two disturbing defeats inside the first nine days of the campaign - by teams with genuine hopes of breaking into the top four - has seen boss Rafael Benitez turn on his senior stars and demand more responsibility.

But the defeats at Tottenham and then against Aston Villa at Anfield have brought to a head a summer of change at Anfield that has been largely kept very much under wraps.

Not any more. Major changes in staffing at Anfield, the club's academy and the Melwood training complex has created a sense of upheaval.

Now the financial problems of American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, which has deprived Benitez of the funds to buy a much-needed top striker, is taking its toll.

Benitez, unhappy it is believed at the easy access to dressing room secrets by TV pundits who are friendly with his top players, has now called for "greater responsibility" from his star names.

Liverpool players, predictably, have jumped to the defence of a side already six points behind the leaders.

Midfielder Yossi Benayoun said: "Of course we are disappointed. We did not expect to lose to Villa but it was just one of those nights when everything went against us.

"Now we know we have to improve on Saturday at Bolton. Against Villa we did not play like we can play, we didn't move the ball quickly enough as we did to beat Stoke last week.

"Last season we only lost two league games, so of course we are not pleased. But we have to show we are still a strong team with character to recover from this.

"It is all about hard work and effort, working from game to game and We know we can do better than this.

"Normally a club like Liverpool will lose only two or three games (a season). Of course everyone will ask if we are strong enough to win the league, but there is still a long way to go and everything can change.

"Not only the senior players must do better, everybody needs to work harder. I am sure we have enough quality, enough good players to do it (win the title).

"We have a game now against Bolton and maybe then it is a good time to go on an international break and try to come back stronger."

Benitez looked to his top men for the right leadership, and that cannot hide the fact that Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano are in the firing line.

Benitez also dismissed criticism of his style of play and the quality in his squad.

He said: "There is no doubt that senior players must take on more responsibility while I have no problem with the system we use. It won us 86 points last season and we only conceded 10 goals from set-pieces.

"But there are things that must be improved. Maybe our focus, we must now win our next game and then things can change.

"There were too many people involved with mistakes for the goals (against Villa), the own goal was unlucky and we maybe could have done better for their second defending the corner.

"And, as for the penalty, it is better if the player (Gerrard) can stay on his feet and then the outcome could be different.

"This is now a test of character. We have to show we have enough quality for a title challenge and we must win against Bolton and do the right things in matches.

"The squad is more or less the same one that took 86 points last season. So we know we can do it, but we must do things properly from the beginning of games."

New signing Glen Johnson was equally defensive, saying: "Obviously this is not the start to the season that we wanted but it was only the third game and there is a long way to go.

"It is still the early part of the season so we are not going to beat ourselves up at the moment. Of course, we would like to have a few more points but it's not to be so we will just keep going."

He added: "I definitely believe that teams like Aston Villa and Tottenham and Manchester City will take points off the so-called big four this season.

"Bolton is a hard place to go next but hopefully we will start there the way we started the second half tonight by going at them from the first minute and get the three points."

Liverpool have sent reserve striker Krisztian Nemeth for a season-long loan at AEK Athens, while another youngster, Andras Simon will also have a season with Spanish side Cordoba.

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