Title bid not over, says Benitez
Benitez’s side lost only two league games in the whole of last season
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez insists his side’s Premier League title challenge is still alive despite their 3-1 defeat by Aston Villa at Anfield.
The Reds have lost two out of their first three league games and Benitez said: “We now know that we have to go to Bolton on Saturday and win.
“Everything could change if we do that, our confidence will improve.
“This squad is virtually the same as last season so I believe it is good enough to mount a title challenge.”
Liverpool are six points behind early pace-setters Tottenham and Chelsea, who have won all three of their matches, while Arsenal and Manchester City hold 100% winning records having played a game less.
Defending champions Manchester United have six points from three games, having lost to newly promoted Burnley last week.
Liverpool were beaten by Spurs on the opening weekend of the season but they appeared to have put that defeat behind them when they recovered to overpower Stoke.
Villa had other ideas and an own-goal by Lucas and a Curtis Davies header in first-half injury-time put Martin O’Neill’s side in charge at the break.
PHIL MCNULTY’S BLOG
Fernando Torres pulled one goal back after some heavy Reds pressure in the second half but Steven Gerrard conceded a rash penalty soon afterwards to allow Ashley Young to make sure of the visitors’ victory from the spot.
Benitez added: “We were not playing well, and we were up against a team who are excellent on the counter-attack.
“Their goalkeeper Brad Friedel made some great saves, but when that happens we just have to make more chances.
“We will have to sit down and analyse every player now, and make sure we do the right things in our next match. But our senior players must take more responsibility.”
Benitez feels individual errors were behind his side’s defeat and felt they came at “crucial times”.
“In the first 20 minutes we created plenty of chances and played well,” he explained. “Then we conceded the own goal and started to make more mistakes.
“We have lost and we know we have to improve. I felt we had a chance when Torres scored, but the penalty finished it. It was a clear penalty.”
We must make sure we do the right things in our next match. Our senior players must take more responsibility
In contrast, O’Neill was proud of his players after seeing them pick up their first points of the season.
“That was a terrific effort from my team,” O’Neill said. “At 2-0 we were in reasonable command of the game, although you are never in command at Anfield.
“But when they scored we got a penalty straight away, a clean penalty, and we were back with our two-goal lead.
“That gave us confidence, discipline and shape to our team and we deserved to win.”
O’Neill felt Friedel was key to his side’s victory, with the American making several superb stops to deny the side he played for from 1997 to 2000.
He added: “Brad was outstanding. He rolled back the years. He was fantastic against his old club to perform like that at Anfield.
“He will be delighted with himself, and rightly so, and we are delighted with him.
“It was a fantastic performance from the whole side and we fully deserved the victory.”