Benitez praises Gerrard’s form amid off-field tittle-tattle


LIVERPOOL manager Rafael Benitez has hailed Steven Gerrard’s response to feverish speculation about his private life.

Gerrard struck a brace against Burnley on Saturday amid suggestions – denied this week by wife Alex – that his marriage was in trouble.

Benitez is relying heavily on his captain in tonight’s Europa League semi-final second leg, with most of his strikeforce hit by injury.

“It was important for him to score with all the rumours and he was playing well,” said Benitez. “Now we can concentrate on our game and try to do the best, like Gerrard the other day scoring two goals.”

Benitez is without top scorer Fernando Torres, while Dirk Kuyt and David Ngog are injury doubts, meaning Ryan Babel could play as a lone striker.

The Spaniard also attempted to dampen rumours he will quit Anfield for Juventus at the end of the season, but offered no long-term assurances.

“I don’t like [the rumours],” he added. “I would like to see news in the press about trophies, or goals or fantastic performances about players but you cannot control everything.

“My future is [tonight’s game with] Atletico Madrid. We have to concentrate on this game and try to win because it is the best for the club.”

Benitez was more gushing about Jonjo Shelvey, the 18-year-old who will arrive from Charlton for an initial £1.7m in the summer, saying he appreciated the prestige of playing for Liverpool. “Shelvey is one of these and we have two or three names ready,” Benitez said.