RAFAEL BENITEZ has called on his Liverpool players to prove they are worthy Premier League leaders.
The Anfield chief wants his players to grasp the opportunity at home to Portsmouth tonight to strengthen their lead at the top while trying desperately to keep the lid on the rapidly-growing expectation among the club’s fans.
Benitez, who will again be without hamstring casualty Fernando Torres said: “It is a crucial week for us.
“We are at the top for the first time and everybody is waiting for our reaction, to see whether we can we handle it. So we must concentrate even more now. We must not slip up or lose our focus.
“The key for me is that the team is working together, all of them helping and motivating their teammates. That is a massive difference.
“It is good to have confidence, but there is a long way to go. I do not want to hear people saying ‘we can do this or that.’ Forget it. I want them to go out and do it.’’
Benitez understands the desire among Liverpool fans for a title triumph after an 19-year wait.
But he said: “We are top, and we are pleased to be there. But we also have a clear understanding and vision about the future, and we know there are a lot more games to go.
“The team has confidence and is playing well, but we dare not allow our thoughts to stray too far beyond Portsmouth next.”
Sunday’s 1-0 win at Chelsea, ending the west Londoners’ 86-game unbeaten home league run, has seen Liverpool’s title odds slashed and a realisation that this Benitez side has the makings of champions.
The manner of the Stamford Bridge victory underlines that. Liverpool’s controlled, defensive display never bordered on panic as Chelsea barely created a single chance of note throughout the 90 minutes.
Benitez said: “We played particularly well at Chelsea in the second half, we had more confidence and more options on the counter attack.
“They also were nervous, they had been unbeaten at home in the league for a long time and they were trying to go forward too quickly, and they made mistakes. If you want to stay at the top then you cannot barely afford to lose any game.
“As in previous seasons, the top sides are winning and winning and winning. This has been the situation in the four years I have been here.”
Liverpool are unbeaten in 15 games, and have lost just two of 58 home league games. Benitez added: “If you want to be a contender, you need character and quality.
“Now we are showing we have enough quality and great character after coming back from behind in five games to win. And now we have won at Chelsea and beaten Everton and Manchester United.”
Liverpool will run into their former striker Peter Crouch tonight, the England man leaving Anfield in the summer because of his frustration at spending so much time on the bench.
Benitez said of Crouch : “Peter is a fantastic lad, we signed him and wanted to keep him. But we couldn’t, he wanted to play more. I still wish him every success and hope he scores many goals for England, but not for Portsmouth this week!”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved