Benitez hopeful over Gerrard recovery

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Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez will be hoping Steven Gerrard's injury-enforced absence does not derail his side's challenge for the Barclays Premier League title.

With the captain ruled out for three weeks with a hamstring tear it is up to the rest of the side to raise their game to ensure leaders Manchester United do not extend their two-point advantage further.

"He is an important player for us. It is always more difficult to play without him," said Benitez. "You can't change things so it is better to concentrate on the next game."

The Spaniard is slightly fortunate that, because of an international week, there are only two league fixtures - against Portsmouth on Saturday and Manchester City - in a short month.

With striker Fernando Torres having already missed a chunk of the season with a hamstring problem Benitez can ill afford to have his captain on the sidelines for too long.

Gerrard's injury, in the 1-0 FA Cup fourth round replay defeat to Everton on Wednesday, is the latest in a number of distractions for a club trying to win their first league title for 19 years.

After Torres' injury problems there was then Benitez's well-publicised rant against Sir Alex Ferguson and his contract dispute with the owners.

The sale on Monday of striker Robbie Keane back to Tottenham after just six months for a considerable loss because the player was not happy playing a bit-part role for the team was yet another issue.

All the time the United have gone about their business efficiently, deposing Liverpool at the top of the table and still having a match in hand. Benitez, however, remains positive.

"We are out of the cup so maybe we will have more time and the players will not play too many games so will be ready for the Champions League and Premier League," he said. "We are in a very good position and we need to win against Portsmouth and keep going."

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Tottenham Hotspur
Robbie Keane
Manchester City
Fernando Torres
Manchester United
Steven Gerrard

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