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For the last four years the Premiership has been regarded as a four horse race by the foolishly optimistic punter and a two horse canter by anyone who is more careful with his money. In the big races third and fourth finishers are acknowledged as ’being placed‘, but in the Premiership they might as well be called also rans, particularly when, as in the case of Liverpool and Arsenal, they continue to bring up the field within what has become known as the Big Four. This season the Scousers have flown from the starting gate like never before and Sunday sees them take us on from a neck-and-neck, equal-point position of strength that should mean they are treated as co-favourites in any bookmakers assessment of their chances. Yet somehow you know that where this team is concerned it wont happen and the viewing public and pundits alike will, in the main, end up showing them favouritism which will be akin to giving them a trip on going best described as good to soft. Accepting this as a sad fact of life - to be fair, it’s also viewed the same from a ManU or Arse standpoint as well - it is nevertheless interesting to ponder on why it should be. After much deliberation I’ve come to the conclusion that Liverpool have a head start over their three rivals in the all important Many Million Guineas-Worth of Playing Style Stakes and so, after one of the longest [even for me] preambles ever, here comes the main gist of this topic…

Teams wishing to be considered as serious contenders for the Premiership title have one thing in common - they play to win every game, home and away, in sickness and in health. Whether it be us United or the Arse, there is no safe haven to be found in playing negatively, whoever the opposition are, and should any of these three teams pre-emptively claim that a draw was their aim, or the extent of their ambition, they would, figuratively speaking, be sent to the knackers yard by media and public opinion alike. Not so Liverpool, however, who season after season have a Premiership history of pulling up several fences from home and it is a sorry indictment that, despite seeking confirmation that they are genuine contenders amongst the tried and tested horseflesh, while Rafa Benitez holds the whip hand, the prospect of a stewards enquiry will always loom large.

In the past there has been no Anfield rush to deny that Benitez’s teams have a horses for courses look about them, but all of a sudden we are expected to buy into the idea that he is now making a concerted effort in the bread and butter event, as reflected in the purchase of goal machine Robbie Keane and the resultant twin striker team selections. Gone are the days of playing 4-5-1 with Stevie G moaning about his left or right flank berth, or being wedged in behind the lone striker. No siree, he’s back in his rightful slot in the centre of midfield, controlling matters and making the bullets for Torres, Keane and Kuyt to fire.

Except that that isn’t how it is, is it Rafa? The truth is somewhat different and, when someone like Phil Thompson bemoans ’Pool’s current lack of fit forwards [now including Keane, apparently] and suggests a draw on Sunday would be a good result, it’s all part of the smokescreen surrounding the real situation at his favourite club. In short, Torres and Keane as a partnership has yet to work and, injured or not, there was never any intention of playing them both against us, just as there was never going to be anything thing less than five bodies strung across midfield at the Bridge, just as Gerrard was never going to be asked to play anywhere else other than amongst that five and told to support the lone striker when he can, just as [sans Torres] Kuyt is bound to play in this role, hence his omission from the Madrid game, and just as the whole package will be designed to frustrate the life out of us, leading to the draw they desperately crave, or a 0-1 win that would no doubt be hailed as a triumph in adversity on the part of the great Spanish tactician.

Put bluntly and [i maintain] accurately, a half-hearted attempt has been made to alter the predominantly defensive Liverpool way of playing, but it has floundered in the early stages of games and has needed rescuing so many times this season that it cannot be trusted, least of all against us. Injuries are an annoyance, but, as Felipe reminds us, they are nothing if not a common occurrence that has to be accepted gracefully. Clearly not a philosophy taken on board by Benitez, it nevertheless sticks in the craw to have him use them to foster the popular belief that he is somehow disturbed in his preparation for Sunday when nothing of the sort has happened. Should he not play, Fernando Torres will be a loss for them, but that loss will not have changed the Spaniard’s overall tactical approach because in reality that was set in stone ages ago.

His strategy since arriving on Merseyside has been founded on caution away from Anfield, culminating in an overeager acceptance of one point rather than risking going home empty handed. Thankfully, it has taken him an inordinately long time to realise that this approach will not win a Premiership title. Even now the signs are that he is not yet a complete convert, especially when it comes to a summit meeting such as the forthcoming one with us, and the good news is that I can’t see success for them over the longer course in any shape or form either. Over that distance the unmistakable conclusion has to be that there is no room for half measures or half-baked, half-truths and even if the unthinkable happens on Sunday it will only result in a reversion to square one conservatism for them and I’ll wager that not even Frankie Dettori could kick on from there.

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I honestly don't see any real difference between this current Liverpool team and last season's.

I don't think adding Robbie Keane, plus the usual revolving door of 5 or 6 no-name hit-and-miss players from the continent coming and going has changed them over the summer. And I don't think that Steven Gerrard has suddenly become Maradona.

They are the same side as last season, under the same manager, playing the same tactics. No change. Still capable of looking good on their day against good opposition through stifling tactics. Still more than capable of looking woeful against lower rated opposition.

The only difference so far this season is they have had the most unbelievable run of late goals.

They have had to rely on goals in the final ten minutes (and sometimes injury time) to get results against Wigan, Man United, Middlesborough, Sunderland and Man City. Thats 5 out of 8 matches.

With a bit worse luck, they could be bemoaning a terrible start to the season.

Of course you could draw out the old adage that scraping ugly results is the mark of champions. But I prefer the adage that form is temporary and class is permanent, and that you can't ride your luck over a 38 match season.

Compare that to our record, and our only late goal to get a result was against Man United. All our other wins have been (for the most part) pretty convincing demolition jobs of our opponents. No luck involved.

If they are level on points with us in April with 8 matches to go, then fair play to them. But being level on points 8 matches into the season means nothing.

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I think Liverpool have made a slight improvement this season in that I think Riera has given them a better option on the left hand side than they have had in previous seasons. Not a fantastic option but certainly better than they had.

I also think they are starting to build up a but more belief in themselves and the string of late come backs will be furthering that. In previous seasons I don't think they would have come from behind so many times.

Whether or not they are anywhere near the top of the table in the latter stages of the season will be largely dependent on luck with injuries. I still say we are the only club out of the big four who can cope with a sever injury crisis and that is not, as the pundits will have people believe, because we have a massive squad which is worth the national debt of three global superpowers (are there still three?), but rather because, more so than the other three, we have players who are versatile and capable of playing out of position.

If you look at the players we have out for the Boro game and took the equivalent players out of the Utd, Liverpool or Arsenal squads then the team they would put out would be there for the taking. Of the other three United are next best equipped to deal with injuries but Arsenal and Liverpool are in a world of pain if they lost as few as two key players on a longish term basis.

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