Rafa Benitez has dismissed the furore behind Liverpool's dismal start to the season by insisting his side is ''one weekend away from changing everything''. Two weeks into the new season, Benitez's team have equalled the number of defeats they suffered throughout the whole of the 2008-09 campaign, when they finished runners-up in the Premier League.
Liverpool start today's game at Bolton trailing early season pacemakers Tottenham and Chelsea by six points after losing at White Hart Lane and then, more surprisingly, at home to Aston Villa, a match which saw established players like Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard perform well below their usual high standards. Gerrard's influence on the team is such that on the few occasions his form has faltered, so too has Liverpool's.
With his side having struggled out of the Premier League starting blocks and his captain is starting World Cup year slower than he would have wished, Benitez could be forgiven for reaching for the panic button.
Yet he believes Liverpool – and Gerrard – will be challenging for the title in eight months time. ''We have seen Steven playing really well for a while now. He is one of our big names, a key player, and he will continue to be that,'' said Benitez. ''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.
''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. We have to play better, make less mistakes and start doing this against Bolton. We can't change what has happened. Clearly everybody was expecting three wins in a row and then we'll have won the league by September!
''It's impossible. After two defeats we are really disappointed but we still have lots of games to play. But we can get back in the title race. We have to start as soon as possible.''
Despite the inconsistent start, Benitez believes his team is one weekend away from changing everything. His theory is based on the fact that a victory at the Reebok Stadium – coupled by Manchester United losing at home to Arsenal – could catapult Liverpool above Sir Alex Ferguson's team in the table. ''If you can win, one weekend can change everything,'' added Benitez. ''But you have to win.
''I'm trying to manage the expectations from the very beginning of the season. We have to approach every single game and just look at the three points and don't think about the title and what might happen if we lose.
''Every single club has some pressure. The question is whether you can keep calm and send the right message. Our message is clear: we have a good squad, we got 86 points last year, we have to play to the same level as before and we will do.''
Despite failing to win the league last season after losing just twice, he insisted his side could afford to lose more games and still be champions.
He claimed Manchester City's lavish summer of spending along with increased threat from the likes of Tottenham made it inevitable that Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal would suffer more defeats than they experienced last season.
''Cleary we have more competition this season,'' said Benitez. ''Any top side can lose games. I don't think it will be like before when some team wins the title as they have just won 10 or 12 games in a row.''
Fair Kop: Liverpool's worst start
*The last time Liverpool lost three of their opening four League fixtures was 85 seasons ago. During the 1924-25 season in the old Division One, the Reds went down 4-2 to Aston Villa and 2-0 to Arsenal, beat Man City 5-3 before losing 3-1 to Blackburn.
*Despite this poor start, the Anfield side, managed by Matt McQueen, recovered to finish fourth with 50 points, behind champions Huddersfield, West Bromwich Albion and Bolton Wanderers.Reuse content