Liverpool’s victory over Manchester United last weekend was huge: it has revitalised the club’s mood, confidence and ambition, releasing the massive weight from Rafa Benitez’s shoulders and putting an end to talk of Anfield’s title challenge ending in October.
But it will mean nothing if Liverpool fail to collect all three points at Fulham tomorrow and against Birmingham next Monday night. Beating the big boy predators is great, but only if the smaller fish further down the sea are also defeated.
If Liverpool are serious about mounting a title challenge this season, they will need to demonstrate the consistency they showed in the last campaign, in which they lost only two games. Though the club have already been beaten twice as many times as last season in the first three months of this campaign, an ability to turn last season’s draws against lower clubs into wins would boost the points tally significantly.
Tottenham, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Sunderland have all seen off Benitez’s side this season, underlining the woeful start Liverpool have made to this Premier League campaign. The defence has looked much less sturdy than in recent times and the attacking deficiencies have continued.
Criticism has flooded towards Anfield but this week there has been a drought. The United win has had that much of an effect. Jamie Carragher appeared back to his best last weekend with a magnificent defensive display of blocks, tackles and interceptions, while Yossi Benayoun and Fernando Torres displayed their raw ability to conjure the unexpected. Torres’ smashed finish from Benayoun’s immaculate through-ball was an act of the sublime.
But the hounds will be out in force again if Fulham manage to take anything off Liverpool on Saturday. United and Chelsea will both almost certainly win against Blackburn and Bolton respectively, leaving Liverpool further behind if they fail to win. Being six points off the top is already bad enough in October for a club steeped in league-winning history.
If last season’s problem of struggling to break down lesser opponents can be solved this time around then there is still genuine hope of a 19th league title though. 4-0 wins over Stoke and Burnley and a 6-1 thrashing over Hull seem to show the ability to unlock the door is being improved.
Fulham will provide stern opposition for Liverpool though, especially with Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson injured and Fernando Torres not fully fit. Mascherano and Lucas will start in central midfield, with Benayoun most likely supporting Torres and Kuyt and Aurelio starting on the wings. Liverpool will need to show the ruthlessness they demonstrated against Hull if they are to make sure the United win is backed up with another three points.