Rafa hails 'best' Gerrard
© AFP

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has described Steven Gerrard as "the best midfielder in the world" ahead of a weekend which could see the Reds skipper lead his side to the top of the Premier League.

With current leaders Chelsea not in action until Sunday's showdown with champions Manchester United, Liverpool will pull clear at the top for at least 24 hours if they beat top flight newcomers Stoke City at Anfield on Saturday.

After scoring both goals in Liverpool's 2-1 UEFA Champions League win in Marseille in midweek, Gerrard needs one more to complete a century of goals for his hometown club.

"Ninety-nine goals is amazing for a midfielder," said Benitez. "But he can score more, maybe get close to doubling his current tally if he takes the penalties as well!

"He scores great goals that few other players can manage. We are lucky to have the best midfielder in the world," Benitez added.

Liverpool are on a high after beating United last weekend before being inspired by Gerrard to a winning start to their European campaign.

Stoke threat
But Benitez acknowledged that Stoke pose a serious threat, particularly from set-pieces, including the long throws that Rory Delap fires into opposing penalty areas with remarkable velocity.

"I have been really impressed with their set-pieces - not just the long throws but also their corners and free-kicks," Benitez admitted. "It shows that their manager has done a very good job.

"The key is not to give them too many opportunities for long throws close to our area. It will be difficult, but there are a lot of teams who use long throws, so we have to be aware and be ready for what happens," Rafa continued.  "We have to play our own football, keep possession, keep passing and keep it on the ground."

Robbie Keane meanwhile has shrugged off his failure to open his Liverpool scoring account in the seven games since his 20-million-pound arrival from Tottenham.

The Ireland captain said: "Obviously I realise I have not scored yet and that is something that I want to do, but it is also not something I am too worried about.

"If I was a young lad and a bit naive, then I would probably be really worried about it, but as long as the team is winning and I keep working hard, then that is all I can do.

"I know I will get my reward for all the hard work I have put in. I think my first goal is just around the corner. Hopefully when that does come, many more will follow."