An e-mail arrives from a leading bookmaker, containing not, thankfully, a final demand for payment, but the latest odds on the Premier League title race. Chelsea are odds-on favourites – fair enough – but Liverpool remain distant third-favourites behind Manchester United. It got me thinking: have the bookies got it wrong for once?
I was driving north up the M1 on Saturday afternoon, my head still spinning after the pulsating encounter between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium, when the thought occurred to me: the opportunity is there, after a formidable start to the season, for Liverpool to claim their first league title since 1990.
It is just that, for whatever reason – and it clearly isn’t all to do with Chelsea – nobody seems to want to board that particular bandwagon.Perhaps that is partly Liverpool’s own doing. The word emanating (quietly) from the Anfield dressing room is that Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and their team-mates are quite content to let the spotlight shine on others. Having witnessed more than a few false dawns in their time at the club, Gerrard and Carragher are more aware than anyone of the danger in shouting from the rooftops. Indeed, they have made a point of warning some of their team-mates that there should be no giddy predictions and no getting ahead of themselves when a microphone is put in front of them.
Liverpool do not have the jaw-dropping technical skill of Arsenal. They do not have the match-winning flair of Manchester United, who have more potential match-winners than any of their rivals. And yet, as things stand today, with Rafael Benitez’s team six points clear of Arsenal and eight points clear of United, I regard them as more credible title challengers than either.
This is a dangerous prediction in United’s case, particularly as they have already got many of their toughest fixtures out of the way, but there seems to be a slight lack of conviction around the champions at present, the sort that can only be banished by a long run of consecutive wins.
Some would have it that Liverpool will struggle to maintain the form that has seen them take 29 points from their first 12 games. There have been some very scrappy victories along the way, but there are signs that things can get easier rather than tougher in the weeks ahead.
A personal view is that, while United are not yet firing on all cylinders, the same could be said of Liverpool. Now that Albert Riera and Robbie Keane are beginning to look comfortable in their surroundings, now that Fernando Torres is back from injury, now that Javier Mascherano and Ryan Babel are approaching full fitness, having had their start to the season punctuated by the Olympics, it could be a case of full steam ahead.
The worry for Liverpool is the form of Chelsea, who, if anything, have an even more formidable look about them. Where Liverpool are grinding out victories, often in the final minutes of matches, Chelsea are winning games with plenty to spare. Their 2-0 win in the driving rain at Blackburn Rovers on Sunday was mightily impressive.
Yet three points are three points, no matter how they are won. That is something that the aesthetes of Arsenal and, to a lesser exent, United must get to grips with because Liverpool, like Chelsea, mean business this season.
Keeping pace with Luiz Felipe Scolari may prove to be an impossibility over the course of a 38-match campaign, but, at present, Liverpool seem like the team most likely to do so.