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Top three face crucial tests

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Phil McNulty | 08:23 UK time, Friday, 9 January 2009

There is only one thing worse than being talked about by Sir Alex Ferguson - and that is not being talked about by Sir Alex Ferguson.

So Liverpool's status as serious title contenders received the official rubber-stamp when Ferguson fired his first barb - a mild one by his own acerbic standards admittedly - in the direction of the Premier League leaders.

As a general rule, Ferguson ignores those who cannot harm Manchester United, so Rafael Benitez will have glowed with satisfaction when the old streetfighter hinted that pressure might play on Liverpool's nerves when the title race reaches its sharp end.

And the pressure will turn up another notch for the main title protagonists this weekend when Liverpool face the intimidating test of a trip to Stoke City on Saturday and Manchester United meet Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday.

The mind games have continued with Manchester United's Michael Carrick claiming Liverpool and Chelsea have missed a trick by failing to put daylight between themselves and the reigning champions.

The amateur psychology can be placed on one side ahead of a weekend that will tell us much about these three sides - and I will be at the Britannia Stadium and Old Trafford to see what they produce.

Liverpool have surprised many - myself included - by deservedly leading the table at the turn of the year. They have rarely had a better chance to claim the title since it last came to Anfield in 1990.

In answer to questions from Liverpool fans in August, I predicted a third-placed finish in the league and a cup as their return this season. The cup claim still stands but the league may yet offer the ultimate reward.

Benitez's side have not been showered in plaudits, but point a finger in the direction of the Premier League table and that is the only accolade they require.

Liverpool have compensated for stodgy home form with outstanding performances on their travels, characterised by a new resilience that has been missing from previous failed attempts to mount a title challenge.

Liverpool also have the spine required to go the distance, with an outstanding goalkeeper in Pepe Reina, defensive solidity, a midfield that now boasts width as well as strength in the centre, and a potent attack.

Benitez, crucially, is usually accompanied by good fortune and his stroke of luck this season has been the renaissance of Xabi Alonso, a midfield man he spent last summer trying to sell in his ill-fated and acrimonious pursuit of Aston Villa's Gareth Barry.

And their run to the top has been achieved, for the large part, without the world-class services of injured Fernando Torres and without £20m summer signing Robbie Keane justifying his lavish price tag.

This resilience will be examined thoroughly by a Stoke side that has proved more than capable of giving top sides a harrowing time in front of their own fans.

Stoke are fighting for their lives (not that this will change their approach) and will be fired up by manager Tony Pulis. It will be a test of physical and mental strength for Liverpool.

If they come through unscathed, it will be another sign that this may not be a title campaign destined to fade in the fashion of others.

Fast forward to Sunday and the meeting between United and Chelsea - two teams who will know they have to step up another level if they are to prevent Liverpool muscling in on their recent title monopoly.

Chelsea, in particular, have questions to answer as they stumble following a start that justified their status as pre-season title favourites.

It is hardly crisis time at a club lying second in the Premier League and in the last 16 of the Champions League, but the old Chelsea air of invincibility has currently deserted them.

The Stamford Bridge fortress has been breached by Liverpool and Arsenal and games that would previously have been won have seen points cast aside - the draw at Fulham and the FA Cup tie at home to Southend being prime examples.

After watching Chelsea on several occasions at Stamford Bridge, there is a worrying predictability about their play that has been exposed by Liverpool and Arsenal in particular.

Sir Alex Ferguson

They, and others, have played on a tactical flaw centred on a lack of width in attacking positions - a sharp contrast to the supposedly austere Jose Mourinho days when he had Damien Duff, Arjen Robben and Shaun Wright-Phillips at his disposal.

Ferguson will have noted much of Chelsea's attacking threat can be neutered by closing down the full-backs - but he will also be aware they have looked a much more potent threat on their travels than at home.

How Luiz Felipe Scolari counters Ferguson will do much to answer questions currently being asked about his suitability for the rigours of the Premier League.

I would also have Joe Cole ahead of Deco in Chelsea's side every day of the week - a purely personal preference, but one shaped by watching several lightweight displays from the Portugal midfield man.

I still believe you write off Chelsea and Scolari at your peril - this is a team and a coach with an in-bred winning mentality and they have the opportunity to make a massive statement at Old Trafford.

United have made much of a fixture list that allows them to welcome Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal to Old Trafford in the second half of the season, seeing this as their chance to claw back lost ground.

And they will need a better return than the one point they gained from their away meetings with those three to harbour serious hopes of retaining the title.

United have hit top form in flashes this season, but the feeling remains that there is so much more to come.

This is where Ferguson's confidence about their title aspirations comes from - they have travelled course and distance before and their opponents know it.

Ferguson will also know his multi-talented attack of Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo have yet to deliver on all of their potential this term, another sobering thought for those hoping to take the title away from Old Trafford.

In their differing fashions these will be two games to savour and an opportunity for the only three teams with serious hopes of winning the Premier League.


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  • Comment number 1.

    hi phil, read most of your blogs, and this is one that caught my eye the most, "the fergie mind games!" he does this every season, and to be honest, its getting dull now, 17 seasons (?) of utter nonsense in trying to add pressure to the team that are top!
    you say about the outstanding pepe reina, in the past he has tended to make one or two mistakes a season.. is another one about to rear its ugly head?
    keep up the good work Phil (Y)

  • Comment number 2.

    looking forward to this weekend, could be a crucial 1 in the title race. I cant see Chelsea winning at OT, a draw maybe, but I fully expect a Man Utd victory.

    I did have a Liverpool win down as a banker, however I then saw it was the saturday evening game on setanta which always seem to end goaless, so fingers crossed Liverpool can drop a couple of points there, allthough not optimistic.

  • Comment number 3.

    There appears to be something I disagree with in almost every paragraph of this article.

    I would suggest a job at Sky for such 'hyping' for the sake of it.

    Best bit though is that you mention your pre-season predictions.

    Are you sticking to your guns regarding these Phil?

  • Comment number 4.

    What Liverpool fan find most amusing is that their title challenge has been written off from the outset. We've been constantly told our season will falter in October, November, December etc etc. Let's hope it falters in May when the title has already been wrapped up.

    I think we have a chance of making further ground this weekend as United Chelsea has a draw written all over it.

    Most realistic LFC fans still don't think we'll cross the line first but just challenging is a massive step towards eventually landing title number 19.

  • Comment number 5.

    To Mr Blue Burns...good to welcome an old friend back. Happy New Year for 2009.

    As I have clearly stated, I still fancy Liverpool to win a cup (not sure which one but I think they will win either the FA Cup or Champions League) but believe the Premier League may yet be the ultimate reward.

    I think this addresses my pre-season predictions.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good blog Phil i always enjoy reading your views.

    I was happy to see your praise for Liverpool this season as deserved league leaders at this point. The league table certsinly does not lie.

    I personally think it is a good time to be playing Stoke as they have struggled for form in recent weeks. However we must not take them lightly. THey frustrated us at Anfield earlier this season with all our big hitters playing and they will be fired up to do so again. It is though imperative that we take all 3 points with our other two main title rivals playing the following day. It would be great to sit down and watch them two go at it hammer and tong safe in the knowledge that we picked up 3 points the day before.

    I personally believe Sunday's encounter has 1-1 written all over it with neither team firing on all cylinders at the momnet but only time will tell.

    In regards to all the criticism Chelsea have got of late, i agree with Phil that i wouldn't write them off but it just goes to show how the media love to jump on a bandwagon. Essentially it is the same people who are criticising them now as those who were laveshing them with praise at the beggining of the season saying they were going to walk the league this season.

    I say just sit back and let's see what happens!

  • Comment number 8.

    I would just like to say that i wholeheartedly agree that Pepe Reina is an outstanding keeper, certainly the best ive seen in a liverpool shirt during my life (im 23). He has made a mistake or two, most notably the one against the bluenoses but so does every keeper. What can not be argued against is the fact that he has 3 golden glove awards in a row and im glad he is starting to get recognition for his undoubted talent.

  • Comment number 9.

    Man Utd are in effect only 1 point behind Liverpool and with Liverpool still to play at OT. United also have an easier away fixture list after January, and they will always perform well at OT regardless of the opposition.

    1) Man Utd 90pts
    2) Liverpool 88pts
    3) Chelsea 79pts
    4) Aston Villa 74pts
    5) Arsenal 73pts

  • Comment number 10.

    I can't let post 6 pass without comment...what a lovely gesture by Mrs Bozzie and a new departure for the interactivity on this blog. Touching.

    Lucky Mr Bozzie I say. But do you both think Liverpool will win the league?

  • Comment number 11.

    Thanks for the reply Phil (Post 10), it is always dangerous to leave my account still logged in with the missus around!

    She is not remotely interested in the great game but to answer your question, I think we might just fall short this season.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hello Phill,

    I'm glad that you are starting to acknowledge the true potential of this Liverpool side that has so much more to offer. Everybody seems to focus on the fact that United and Chelsea have had their "bad" patch already and that soon they will be firing on all cylinders. Well the truth is that Liverpool have not been firing on all cylinders either. Home draws against Stoke, West Ham, Hull etc. prove this. Couple this with the absence of Torres and the form of Keane (which has to come back at some point) then we have so much to look forward to in the second half of the season.
    I also believe that all is not well in the United and in particular Chelsea's houses. United front line just doesn't seem to want to play together, a fact that has been evident since the arrival of Berbatov which seems to have unsettled the boat.
    Chealsea' bodylanguage seems all over the place as well, and they also do not seem like a well oiled unit they were only a couple of seasons ago.
    This is the best chance Liverpool have had since 1990 to finaly claim the elusive title.

  • Comment number 13.

    mr moe

    I don't think anybody is getting to 90 points this year

    anyway, draw on sunday if you would

  • Comment number 14.

    "Two teams who will know they will have to step up another level if they are to prevent Liverpool muscling in on their recent title monopoly"

    Monopoly, from 'mono' meaning one. I believe you meant duopoly, or alternatively oligopoly would also be acceptable. Gavin Strachan would never make such an error...

  • Comment number 15.

    As a United fan, I think 3 points this weekend will make us favourites, regardless of the liverpool result. It would seriously damage chelsea and we have a very winnable run of games to follow this.

    Victory would give us the confidence to start scoring a few more goals and chase down liverpool.

    A draw is no disaster but it gives Liverpool the chance to pull away slightly, making it harder to hunt them down.

    Defeat would be hard to come back from, although we have recovered from worse in the past.

    An interesting weekend. A hunch tells me it could end in two 1-1 draws!

  • Comment number 16.

    And a happy new year to you Phil.

    Liverpool are most definitely there deservedly, as indeed all league tables are based on merit.

    Their football ain't too pretty but Scousers won't mind that if they bag the league.

    However, Gerrard's current predicament may yet overshadow the whole show though I can't really see them slipping up to a limited Stoke side (and I'm being kind when I say 'limited')!

    I still believe Chelsea can and will win the league. We are where we are with the best defense without Carvalho, Deco is cold right now but Essien will be back before long and to my mind, it is early days for Drogba and Anelka.

    I have some quiet confidence about Sunday but we'll see.

  • Comment number 17.

    United currently have 38 points, with twenty games left, to say they will get 90 points is very unlikely as i can easily see them dropping more than 8 points.

    However i also see Liverpool and Chelsea dropping points as they both have to go to Old Trafford, Play each other etc.

    Liverpools title challenge lies on the shoulders of steven gerrard, its ok saying torres has been out and keanes not played well, but even with both of those two if you took gerrard out they lose all the threat they carry.

  • Comment number 18.

    Got to be honest. I don't see Chelsea getting anything from this game! We're in a bit of a dip at the moment and are there for the taking. It's amazing how this once powerful team has been reduced to mere mortals under Scolari! I think Scolari might just get this one season to prove himself.

    I think his temperement just might be the same as McLaren when he was in charge of England, sucking up to his star players. Mclaren even went so far as to give them pet names like "Becks" for example. While i don't think Scolari would do the same, we all now know of the fond affection his players have for him. They just LOVE him!!!

  • Comment number 19.

    To comment 9:

    Man U are 1 point behind Liverpool? I did not realise that United fans could tell the future, I suppose these are the same fans that indeed said it would be over by Christmas, and behold the league table!

    I'm still optimistic, we've def got a better chance this season that of late and if we continue to get better game after game then we have every reason to take something from OT.

    Chelsea and United won't give up too easy tho, but I think the way we've been playing and getting the results againt the other big four we can edge the rest.

  • Comment number 20.

    "Fast forward to Sunday and the meeting between United and Chelsea - two teams who will know they have to step up another level if they are to prevent Liverpool muscling in on their recent title monopoly."

    Not much of a monopoly if it involves two teams??

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Phil,

    I think this brilliant piece has left me with no choice other than conceeding that you deserve to be the BBC Chief football writer as I have always been a biase critic of your articles though I still give kudos to my favourite writer Tim Vickery.

    A fantastic summary about the 3 title contenders. As a united fan I wouldn't write liverpool off. I have watched their last two matches one of which was a demolition of bolton and I must confess that I am worried about their hunger and dertermination for the premiership title.. SAF must refrain from playing the usual mind games and get the so called quartets to start firing in all cylinders otherwise it might be too late to catch up. Do you think the introduction of Berbatov has slowed down our counter attacking pace which was a vital tool in our double last season?

    As for joe cole ahead of Deco, I am still not convinced about that, I think Deco is just on the verge of settling into playing in a -2degrees celcius temperature and he will come back to his summer form, I am sure Scolari sees alot more than we do in training. Deco brings a different dimension and his brilliant movement create space for lampard and mikel more than joe cole aimless runs and clear misses though it is fair to say Deco has been light weight since the turn of winter but I am confident he will come back good- this is not to slate Joe cole but even the blind knows that an inform Deco is way better than an inform Joe cole .

  • Comment number 22.

    I stand corrected on monopoly! Apologies.

    As far as the title race is concerned, yes, Liverpool have surprised me - and a few of their own followers I suspect.

    They have stayed top without the aid of Fernando Torres in recent weeks, which speaks volumes for their improvement this season.

    At this stage, my money would just go on Man Utd, but I do feel Liverpool will last the course now and could even win it.

    One thing is certain, it is the most interesting Premier League season for years.

  • Comment number 23.


    You seem to emphasise the problems at Chelsea but gloss over those at United. In fact, you suggest United have more in the tank and that it will come later on. Why can it not be argued that Chelsea have just not hit top form and that more is to come from them?

    It's true that United have been the distance, but so too has this Chelsea team. I personally believe that Chelsea's attacking problems can be solved more easily (with one signing) than United's inability to blend their attacking players together.

    A further point - let's not forget the massive role played by Ronaldo in bringing the last two championships to Old Trafford. At the moment he does not look like repeating that sort of form and that could be key.

    As for Liverpool, they certainly are solid, but the consensus seems to be that they are keeping the top spot warm for the others. With wide attackers like Riera and Kuyt, and the two full-backs, i have to agree that they will come up short.

  • Comment number 24.

    Phil. A good comment. I did write off Chelsea, as indeed i did last season. In Aug 07 I said they would implode and, hey within a month Mourinho had gone. They ended up having a better season but still didnt win anything.

    In July I predicted, again, that Man utd would win the PL title and ive seen nothing to change that view. My team, Liverpool will come close but I think 2nd will be the result simply because of Utd's and SAF's experience and also their attacking threat. If we can add, say Heskey and a dood right winger then its game on.

    As for Chelsea, the writings on the wall isnt it. After a good start theyve faded because, contrary to what a lot of pundits said in Aug, they actually have a very thin squad with too many central midfielders and not enough width. When Mourinho got rid of Robben and Duff it was the death knell for their attacking threat.

  • Comment number 25.

    15 whatbill

    you already are the favourites, 11/8 for united to win the league, 9/4 on chelsea and a disrespectful 11/4 for the leaders

    unless liverpool cock up at stoke nothing changes

  • Comment number 26.

    Aside from the blatant mistake on monopoly:

    "Games that would previously have been won have seen points cast aside – the draw at Fulham and the FA Cup tie at home to Southend being prime examples."

    You don't cast aside points for drawing a cup match, you just end up with an extra game - poor show Phil...

  • Comment number 27.

    Phil, you are absolutely right in mentioning Ferguson's confidence for the second half of the season. Traditionally, however, Liverpool are one of the strongest teams in the second half of a season under Benitez. We also have played almost all our big games away from home (Manu at OT being the only difference).
    Having done all that without Torres and with Keane yet to hit top form is incredible.

    Keane was bought to play just behind Torres and has struggled as the lone striker since Torres has been injured. It will be interesting to see how he improves now that Torres has returned.

    The title is still wide open to the top three, so it should be a very interesting few months.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hi Phil,

    It's that time of the season when it starts to get really serious and the mind-games really start!

    I've looked at the fixture list and I can't help but fancy United, especially with Rooney, Berbatov, Tevez and Ronaldo not hitting top form as yet.

    I'd love Liverpool to win it (I'm a Sheffield Wednesday fan!) and if Torres and Gerrard stay injury-free (and the brilliant Alonso!) then I think they have a great chance.

    One thing is for sure - I think Sir Alex is more worried about Liverpool this season than any other!

  • Comment number 29.

    great blog phil, thoroughly enjoyed it. i really hope liverpool win the league this year and i think they might just do it providing they can stop dropping points at home. i think they will win this weekend and also think Man U V Chelsea has a draw written all over it!

    also it would be good to just see someone else win the league for a change, the fact that only 4 teams have ever won the premier league is just boring!

    I'd prefer newcastle to win it of course but aint gonna happen!!

    my predictions for this weekend -
    Stoke 0 - 1 Liverpool
    Man U 0 - 0 Chelsea

    hope everone has a good weekend!

  • Comment number 30.


    only one game ought to be given hype - United v Chelsea, obviously.

    To suggest Liverpool's game is a 'test' is an insult in itself. It is arguably one of the easiest away games and therefore every away game they face could be a 'test'. We ought to accept Liverpool's title challenge without trying to make their next game the 'big test' once more. If you think they could go all the way, then you need to back that up!

    Nevertheless, this is a good blog and it seems to give some detailed and impartial thoughts.

  • Comment number 31.

    One thing, is it really mind games by Carrick to say that Chelsea and Liverpool missed a trick while united were away at the World Club thing? surely it's what most people were thinking, it surely wasn't planned by Benitez and Scolari to not take maximum points while United were away, it's hardly controversial.

  • Comment number 32.

    Winning at Stoke is important, but not crucial, there's still alot more points to be dropped by the top teams as the so called "lesser teams" fight for survival. What makes anybody think Liverpool will faulter in the title pursuit this season? Liverpool have had their injury problems this season and have done well in the absence of Torres, does anyone see Liverpool scoring less goals on Torres's return? This is the year when Liverpool will fight till May for the title make no mistake about it, Liverpool are not prepared to give up top spot yet, just not going to happen.

  • Comment number 33.

    T Post23...I made a point of not writing off Chelsea. It would be foolish to do so.

    I think once Terry and Carvalho are fully intergrated again in defence, that will make a huge difference.

    I just think there is something missing this season? Do you not agree?

    In the two major home defeats, to Liverpool and Arsenal, I have been surprised at how easily Chelsea have been contained. They eventually ran out of ideas in both games.

    This has also applied in other home games where they have drawn.

    I feel they need more attacking width, and while agree with a previous poster that Deco is a fine player at his best, I would go with Joe Cole ahead of him currently.

    Scolari needs to find more of a cutting edge, whether he does this by buying a wide player or finding a way to partner Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka remains to be seen.

    I also take your point about United's attack not blending yet, but they have ground out wins at Stoke and at home to Middlesbrough and you sense it will come eventually.

    Interesting on Post 21 re. Berbatov. He does slow things down, and speaking to Manchester United fans they do want more from him.

    I'd be interested to know the thoughts of Manchester United fans on that one.

  • Comment number 34.

    Good point about old Fergie and his dig at Liverpool, Phil. I thought the same when I read about it. Don't want him to retire before we're firmly established back on our 'perch', to use his oft quoted metaphor. Rubbing his nose in it would be almost as sweet as winning the league!

    I was saying to a friend (who supports Man. United) the other day that I can't remember the last time these two sides were duking it out for the league title. When we were in the ascendancy, they were well off the pace, and vice versa. Fingers crossed we maintain our form - will be the most exciting premier league run-in yet! (No offence, Chelsea/Arsenal/Blackburn fans)

  • Comment number 35.

    #24 - The death knell for Chelsea's attacking threat gone?

    Care to square this with Chelsea's current status as the league's top scorer's?

    #26 - Cup match or league match, the point I think Phil was making was that Chelsea are drawing matches that previously would have been wins.

    Personally this is a concern but 2nd place is still 2nd place. And we will still be at least that high come Monday morning. (Though any higher would be an amazing turn up!)

  • Comment number 36.

    Phil re #33

    I think the Arsenal game was a fortuitous result for them.

    Also, Liverpool barely came out of their half in the second half of that game.

    Sure, we should have done better, but, it wasn't for the want of trying. They are ones that got away I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 37.

    Would it be a little over the top of me to suggest that so far, Berbatov is on the right track to making Shevchenko seem like a good signing? :-)

  • Comment number 38.

    PS. Quick question - why are messages on this board PRE moderated?

    They are reactively moderated on most others- including another blog, by Robbo Robson (which, by the way, is as entertaining as a bucket of stool water).

    Just curious - cheers!

  • Comment number 39.

    Liverpool are the most unconvincing leaders for a long time. And they will lose top spot sooner or later I think. As those Liverpool conspiracy theories go - you forget to mention the bookamkers. Look, they jumped on the bandwagon and made United favourites for the title! Surely they're playing mind games too.
    If you had to bet on home draw against lower league opposition who would you choose: Liverpool or United. Get real, it will be United even if you don't like it.

  • Comment number 40.

    Good points about Chelsea's goalscoring record and I accept them, but no-one can deny they have been having unusual difficulty seeing teams off at home this season.

    Can Drogba and Anelka play together? Worth reading an analysis into this on the site which tries to answer that question.

    Disagree with poster 36 re the Chelsea-Liverpool game. I was at Stamford Bridge and felt Liverpool were more likely to score the second goal.

    Ashley Cole missed a late chance for Chelsea, but Liverpool were relatively comfortable after they had scored.

  • Comment number 41.

    Re Chelsea, not many people seem to equate the loss of Steve Clarke with the dip in Chelseas form , he was obviously very close to the players and is getting results at Westham with Zola

  • Comment number 42.

    Mr Moe - ManU to win it on 90 points?

    I think such a total is extremely ambitious. Personally I think the title will go for less than that this season - mid 80's at a guess.

    Despite the myth that ManU perform better in the second half of the season, the stats over the past three seasons suggest otherwise. Looking at a split first 19 games vs last 19 games over the past three season's comparative results for ManU and Liverpool give the following:

    05/06: LFC: +0, MUFC -1
    06/07: LFC: +0, MUFC -5
    07/08: LFC: +2, MUFC -3

    If this trend were to continue this season, given that over the first 19 LFC have picked up 42 points and MUFC 41 (I'm being extremely generous here and assuming you win both your games in hand), that would suggest the following end of season totals:

    LFC: 84
    MUFC: 79

    So barring a massive improvement in results for ManU over the second half of the season, I can't see you getting anywhere near 90 points.

    I haven't factored Chelea into this equation as their points totals over both 'halves' of the season are much more variable, though they did make up 9 points in the second half of last season, still falling short of the winning post.

  • Comment number 43.

    At last a journalist who's recognized the following:
    1. Man Utd have already played all the big away games already, and the top 3 all have to go to Old Trafford.
    2. Chelsea have never replaced Duff and Robben.
    3. Deco is wildly overrated.

    Good article. I expect Utd to pull away from the rest in the next few months, they have far more quality & variety than the other two.

  • Comment number 44.

    Sounds like everybody thinks their team has had their problems in the first half of the season and will improve when certain players get fit or find form. If all 3 teams do it together nothing much will change, will it?

    To win the title you will have to finish above ManU, same as it has been for years, simple as that.
    Chelsea had a couple of good years when ManU and Arsenal were rebuilding (Arsenal still are), and Liverpool are still looking up to the others, even from their present position, and Villa are not out of the top 3 either!
    A good blog Phil with lots of interesting comments, can anyone tell me how many points and goals Liverpool have got this season with and without Torres on the field?

  • Comment number 45.

    i can't see Man U dropping more than 5 points in the second half of the league
    chelsea should be 2nd ahead of liverpool on goal difference.

  • Comment number 46.

    #29 Philtoon82
    Phil, i can understand why you want Liverpool to win the title? Variation is the spice of lfe!! However, you have to appreciate that Liverpool still have to travel to Old Trafford on the 14th March, by which time i would expect United to be sitting proudly at the top of the division and chelsea really putting the pressure on Liverpool. Past years have taught us that Liverpool play well again the bigger teams but do slip up against the so called lesser teams, e.g. West Ham and i predict another slip up this weekend.

    Stoke 1 - 1 Liverpool

    As for Man United v Chelsea, i agree a draw is most likely!! Chelsea cannot afford to lose and will try to hit United on the break.

    Man Utd 2 - 2 Chelsea

    for real!!!

  • Comment number 47.

    #40 Phil

    I'm not disputing that a Liverpool win was a fair result, or that it could have been 2-0 (Liverpool hit the post with one of their very few forays into Chelsea territory in the second half) or Chelsea could have nicked something with the Ashley Cole chance, but, Chelsea weren't 'contained' just beaten on the day.

    Hope you don't think I'm nit-picking and I would generally agree that Chelsea don't have quite the air of invincibility of more recent years but I think these games were blips. Ok?

  • Comment number 48.

    30 jwn007

    Stoke is nowhere near one of the easiest away games - granted it's not OT or Stamford bridge but Stoke are reknowned for their home form (beating arsenal, villa and tottenham this season)

    take a look at the table - stoke have got 17 of their 20 points at home - the only team to have got more at home outside of the top 5 are Fulham (with 21) - in fact chelsea have gained one less at home than stoke, and the likes of everton and city have only got 10 and 15 respectively

    everybody knows Stoke is a tough place to go, and in a recent ranking of stadium atmosphere the Brittania was top, being the most intimidating in the league, even ahead of Anfield

    So if any away game is a 'test' this season it's Stoke - that said I think Liverpool should be ok with this considering their away form and I think their biggest tests are the home games, and they are through the worst of them now

  • Comment number 49.

    i think personally liverpool and chelsea have had their blips this season... i dint think united have.. they just not hitting form.. n if that is a blip, its been going on all season.. they only behind because of games in hand, liverpool have to play chelsea nad arsenal at home, united may have all three at home but theyin no way dead certs for united.

    liverpool are probably the best finnishers to a season (hence we usually have great cup runs), we garner more points thean the teams above us, we just have to make up more space coz of our early season inadequacies.

    i think this team does have the metal to win it this year.. the comparissons with sacci milan are there to c (find any u want around 94 on youtube), which is no supprise as benitez has made no secret about his team playing to the same philosophy as the then milan team.. we probably have a greater squad depth than chelsea.. they may have more individuals but to quote sacci -

    In my football, the regista - the playmaker – is whoever had the ball. But if you have makelele, he can’t do that. He doesn’t have the ideas to do it, although, of course, he’s great at winning the ball. It’s become all about specialists. Is football a collective and harmonious game? Or is it a question of putting x amount of talented players in and balancing them with y amount of specialists?

    this team has players that can adapt to the situation better than ever b4, kuyt being a prime example.

    i think that overall, i cant c the table changing too much. i cant c uniteds striking problems getting any better, berba isnt gonna cut it at united, he's arguably been worse than keane, played just as many.. he has upset the apple cart.. ronaldo's head is elsewer (wer ill let ur imagination run that)

    he was the prems highest shooter, crosser n goalscorer last season n he just hasnt/wont replecate that this season

  • Comment number 50.

    Some of the revisionist analysis of the Chelsea/Liverpool game at Stamford Bridge is embarrassing. Pepe Reina barely had a save to make. Gerrard forced Cech into a great save, Alonso hit the post, Babel whistled one just wide of the post, Kuyt had chances. We didn't dominate obviously but thoroughly merited our victory. As did Arsenal.

    Liverpool have got it all to prove. We've never been seriously involved in a title race since we last won the championship and neither have most of our players. Noone really knows how they'll cope. I still think our squad is only the third best in the league and injuries to 3/4 key players would really hurt the side. We've also only played well on a handful of occasions this season.

    However, this is also cause to be hugely optimistic. People are talking about United hitting top form and understandably so but I think Liverpool have yet to hit their stride. United have had very few injuries this season. Berbatov has come in with mixed success, displacing a now clearly unhappy Tevez. Ronaldo, despite all his proclamations, plays like he'd rather be somewhere else. Of United's attacking players only Rooney is really performing.

    We've only just welcomed back one of the very best strikers in Europe, while one of the most consistent strikers in the premiership, robbie keane, has yet to find any decent form. Babel who ended last season with every pundit lauding his future impact hasn't got going this term. And our best centre half from the opening weeks, Martin Skrtel has just regained full fitness.

    I'm not suggesting the title is heading to Anfield. United and to a lesser extent, Chelsea, can play far far better than they have recently. Perhaps Ronaldo will find his form and United's attacking trio will begin to fulfill the frightening potential Fergsuon clearly sees in it. I just think people are totally underestimating how much more this Liverpool side is capable of. It might not be good enough still, but our best is yet to come.

  • Comment number 51.

    @ jhakkasbipin (comment 45)

    You don't expect ManU to drop more than 5 points in their remaining games?

    That's quite frankly laughable considering they've already dropped 16 over their first 18.

    If your prediction came true it would give you a total of 93 points or more - please see my earlier post (42) as to why I believe this is extremely unlikely.

  • Comment number 52.

    Mr Moe....Utd are not EFFECTIVELY 1 point behind Liverpool. They are 7 points behind with 2 games in hand. These are not 'points in the bag' but points yet to be won and it is that over confidence that annoys so many fans and will hopefully be Utd's undoing. 1-0 wins over Sunderland and Stoke should be a warning for your team.

  • Comment number 53.

    43 chriscorlett wrote:

    At last a journalist who's recognized the following:
    1. Man Utd have already played all the big away games already, and the top 3 all have to go to Old Trafford.


    ok so United have all 3 of the big 3 at home as every united fan the world over points out every 3 seconds - however they fail to mention that Liverpool have 2 of the big 3 at home

    MU: Away - Liverpool (loss), Arsenal (loss), Chelsea (draw) = 1 point

    3 homes games to play = 0

    Liverpool: Away - Chelsea (win), Arsenal (draw) = 4 points, MU to play

    Home: MU (win) = 3 points, Arsenal and Chelsea to play

    even if liverpool lose at OT then when it comes to the big 4 matches liverpool are still in better shape - ie 7 vs 1, with United having one more home game

    it's a void argument, United fans are clinging to a false hope

    and anyway, Liverpool and Chelsea are both playing better away this season

  • Comment number 54.

    I support United and I would like to see more from Berbatov. I think many people would agree that he slows down a lot of the play and doesnt put in as much running and back tracking as Rooney and Tevez. However there has been many moments of many games where he has produced magic. Most notibly the assist against West Ham.
    I think this season he has pulled off more killer passes to help cut through other defences where as Rooney and Tevez havent and this very frequently. This might be the reason why he has been dropping Tevez so often plus the calls from last season that Tevez and Rooney are too similiar.

    In my opinion Berbatov and Rooney should swap roles as it has been Rooney playing up top with Berbatov just behind.

    This might help to get the United engine running and allow us to score alot more goals

  • Comment number 55.

    #51 (Jackal_lfc & Jhakkasbipin

    May I remind you that in the half of the season United have visited Anfield, Stamford Bridge, The Emerates, Goodison, Villa Park, Whiteheart Lane and Eastlands, all of which are up there with the hardest grounds to leave with points!! The fact that United have dropped 18 points already in the first part of the season is irrelevant. As far as only dropping another 5 points for the rest of the season, I think you are being very generous!!! United will not drop another 3 points after the visit of Chelsea this weekend.

    For real!!!

  • Comment number 56.

    45 jhakkasbin

    with all big 3 to play at home I would expect at least 2 draws - that's 4 points dropped, they aren't going to go on that good a winning run

    and chelsea have stopped being so prolific lately, liverpool could catch up in GD, think they've already made up 6 over december

  • Comment number 57.

    Careful with the assumptions Mr Moe.

    United are not "in effect" one point behind Liverpool - they are seven points behind Liverpool, albeit with two games in hand.

    Liverpool have the points on the board. Do not assume United will automatically win those games in hand - you can be sure Sir Alex Ferguson won't.

  • Comment number 58.

    United have been way off their best this season. I have yet to see a real 5* performance this term at OT in either PL or CL. Nevertheless we are just off the top 2 with 2 games in hand and in the last 16 of
    PL and must still be favourites for the Carling and FAC, despite the performance of the 2nd string at Derby. Berbatov doesnt seem to have completed the jigsaw as we appear to have lost the Carlos Tevez bit we so valued last season. Neverthless by next weekend after back to back home games we could be just 2 points off Liverpool with a game still in hand if they draw at Stoke. Game on with an easier 2nd half fixture list than either Chelsea or Liverpool !

    This isnt 99 again - BUT..

  • Comment number 59.

    Phil, I think you are right in pointing out that United are concerned at Liverpool's challenge this season. Benitez has a motivated team that that is strong in the crucial areas and has the driving force of Gerrard on the field. United for all their attacking mobility have looked defensively weaker this season and more unsure of themselves, The difference is that Liverpool and United can still be confident with a draw this weekend. Chelsea need to win and a loss would probably signal the end of a title challenge. Scolari hasn't adapted his tactics and unlike Benitez and Ferguson, he isn't sure of his best options and has a blind loyalty to certain players and formations. Inevitably, this has led to a frustration, disappointment and a lack of confidence and more importantly a loss of concentration! Perhaps Terry and Carvalho can reassert this on the field, but certain players have been caught in possession far too often and this provides an attacking option for other teams. If Scolari doesn't address these fundamental errors and deal with them, Liverpool and United are in a two horse race.

  • Comment number 60.

    I cannot for the life of me think why Liverpool would be regarding their away trip to Stoke this weekend as "intimidating". Exactly what is intimidating about playing Stoke away? Are they overly physical in a way that Liverpool cannot cope with? Is it Rory Delap's long throws? Is it Stoke's vociferous crowd belting out "Go on, Stoke" or their rendition of "Delilah"? What? Liverpool will meet the challenge in their usual calm way and beat Stoke easily.

  • Comment number 61.

    Phil, your comment that Benitez is often accompanied by good fortune is baffling.

    How can you say that Benitez is 'lucky' to have a rejuvenated Alonso in his side, (when it was his decision not to sell because no-one matched his valuation), in one paragraph, and in the very next note that he has been without Torres (one of the best players in the world) for most of the season in the next?

    Surely the fact that we have Alonso is good judgement, and the fact that we don't have Torres is bad luck?

  • Comment number 62.

    Kromkamp David, one thing revisionists can never alter is the final outcome.

  • Comment number 63.

    it is nice

  • Comment number 64.

    How is it that, when contributors to message boards and blogs say entirely reasonable things, they're labelled WUMs, yet when SAF or Rafa or Mourinho say stuff in the media, they're "playing mind games"?

  • Comment number 65.

    Incidentally, does anyone else think that United are missing the influence of Carlos Queiroz?

    I think he was central to their rejuvenation since 2005.

  • Comment number 66.

    Man U 2-1 Chelsae

    Ronaldo 47' Anelka 78'
    Park 83'

    doesn't it look like a match report?
    you can really feel it.

  • Comment number 67.

    Aries 22....Stoke are very tough opponents on their own ground. If you think otherwise you are under-estimating them.

    Ask Arsenal, Aston Villa and Manchester United - even though the latter won with a late goal.

    There is a great atmosphere at The Britannia and this is a team that gives it everything.

    If you are certain now that Liverpool will win easily, it smacks of over-confidence.

    And on the basis of your argument about singing, I have to presume you do not feel The Kop belting out "You'll Never Walk Alone" is intimidating either.

    Let's hope you do not live to regret your casual dismissal of Stoke.

  • Comment number 68.

    @ lcllover (55)

    Perhaps you're not aware, but LFC have also been to all those grounds, and on the whole acheived decent results (barring the lat-minute reverse at 'Whiteheart (sic) Lane').

    The main difference is ManU have been to Anfield, and we still have to go to Old Trafford. That will likely be an important game, but the way I see it is this - ManU have already had their 'test' (visiting Anfield) and failed (losing), we still have a chance of passing ours.

    And as for ManU only sropping 3 more points this season.. don't be ridiculous..

  • Comment number 69.

    stoke 0-2 liverpool stoke will huff and puff but the quality will come through in the end as it did against preston and newcastle and stoke are dropping down the table fast so can only see on result.

    man utd 3-0 chelsea im sorry but can anyone tell me any reason that chelsea can win scolaris tactics dont work any more and they are getting found out espically against the big teams.

  • Comment number 70.

    At 53 Tarquin - Yes Liverpool & Chelsea are playing better away, but I believe that is because they have had far easier away ties. When Man Utd go on a run of easier away games I belive there performances will pick up.

  • Comment number 71.

    At the various comments about Man Utd dropping points. I agree dropping no more than 5 or 8 points is ambitious, but not impossible. I fully expect wins at home to chelsea and arsenal. Liverpool might force a draw, but id be optimistic of 3 points there. Other than that, looking at the fixtures home to city could be a shock defeat, away to Bolton, Newcastle & Boro could be tough, but other than that all matches are very much winnable. That is not to say we will win them all, with our fixture congestion fergie is bound to rest players which always limits our chances, especially if Nani plays. But dont rule out the possibility of a 90 point haul this season (allthough I for 1 wont be backing that)

  • Comment number 72.

    With regards to Berbatov, I think to say he has been a flop is harsh. Also to say hes a worst signing than shevchenko or robbie keane is ludicrous. yes he is lazy, and yes he has effected the way we play, but he is a great player, and there have been many signs recently that it is starting to gel. A few more goals, and a few more starts with Rooney and we will see the best of the crucial points of the season

  • Comment number 73.


    And on the basis of your argument about singing, I have to presume you do not feel The Kop belting out "You'll Never Walk Alone" is intimidating either.
    It's not intimidating, it's a sign of local togetherness that many of us respect but at the same time see it as a minority acting hurt. See Boris Johnson views on the mentality of Scousers for an extension of that argument.

    Sure, they have a proud history, but don't they just like to bore us with it.

  • Comment number 74.

    Hi Phil, any chance of a reply to my query about why you consider Benitez to be lucky?

  • Comment number 75.

    Post 55

    Can i just say a part from Anfield where it is impossible for us to play ourselves Liverpool have already visited every ground you have listed. Whilst you are correct they are tough venues as we don't have to go back to them that can only be beneficial to our season.

    Also the United fans keeping saying they have all the top teams at home but they all keep predicting a draw for Sunday's game so surely that will be no good in their challenge for the title?

  • Comment number 76.

    ask me aries and ill say stoke are probably the hardest bottom half team to beat at the moment away from home. ill go as far to say they are harder than alot of top half teams when they are at home aswell

  • Comment number 77.

    Howard Webb has alredy sent off Ronaldo, Vidic, Adebayor and 2 more; the sunday encounter may add another at least!
    i think ballack wil be on the receiving end.

  • Comment number 78.


    Great Column. I think your views are balanced and give a fair reflection of exactly where the top three of the EPL is currently at.
    As a UTD fan I feel I can offer an opinion on our Enigmatic Bulgarian, Dimitar Berbatov.

    I think there are those that can be fooled by the languid style of his play (SAF himself has referred to this when pointing out that in a recent game he covered more yards than Wayne Rooney).

    Much in the way Paul Scholes is the fulcrum of our midfield play, Berbatov often fills a similar role in the final third (This is particularly important as Scholes now sits much deeper). He is unlike any other attacker we have had at our disposal for many years, Sheringham is perhaps the most recent creative force in the front two since Eric the King. His range of passing is capable of changing our point of attack in an instant. This is a particularly valuble attribute when facing teams that have ten men behind the ball and therefore can not allow for our gung-ho counter attack style.
    Whilst this role could be seen as an obstacle to our freeflowing attacking style, I feel he will, ultimately enhance our attack.
    Certainly, Rooney has at times this season appeared a much more mature and rounded player when Berbatov has given him a target to run from higher up the pitch. Some of the combinations between the two have been astounding (i.e. Berbatov's nonchalent thorough balls being met by the boundless enthusiasm of Rooney's runs).
    I feel some, myself included, felt we had signed a player who would be our main point of attack and therefore our main goalscorer (unless Ronaldo continues his miraculous record), but I now feel that Berbatov is the foil to Rooney and Tevez's all action approach. Essentially Berbatov has freed up Rooney and fills the space BEHIND him, which is not the role many saw him taken. Indeed, Rio Ferdinand has spoken of Rooney being able to become the best STRIKER in the world, in no small part thanks to Berba's guidance from deep. When it clicks, I think our attack will be nearly unstoppable!

  • Comment number 79.

    RE: Berbertov slowing things down,

    The jury is out at OT, as one mans effortlessness and ease at playing the game is another mans lazy.

    In Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez you have three very industrious hard working players.

    I expect Berbetov to have his moments, RVN was never the most hard-working but he was a revelation, though Man U fans did tend to get on his back.

    Where as fans liked the effort shown by a player like Forlan despite the lack of return...

    As for the title... foolish to rule out any of the 3 teams. As always i think Chelsea's are the most consistent unit and the team to beat, and i hope United do it again.

  • Comment number 80.

    Mcnulty - looks like you got your mind games. And Rafa has hit back at this lucky rubbish (happy timing for me).

    Let the games begin.

  • Comment number 81.

    We'll see, Phil! I can see teams needing to be prepared, but they need to be prepared wherever they play. But intimidated? Liverpool players have been exposed to far more hostile crowds that the Britannia and equally physical players as Stoke's, and if they lose, it won't be because they were intimidated. After Hartlepool, the last team Stoke need is the one at the top of the table. As I say, though, we'll see. Unpredictability is part of the beauty of football.

  • Comment number 82.

    #65 - I agree that we are missing Carlos. Also Berbatov is taking a while to settle in and Ronaldo needs to sort his head out. There is also the Tevez situation which doesn't help.

    However, I think the point United fans keep making is that in prevoius seasons (e.g. Arsenal invincibles or chelsea under Mourinho) we'd have been out of it by now but instead we're still in the thick of things and are favourites with the bookmakers.

    Looking at the website I see Rafa has taken Fergie's bait and thrown his toys out the pram. Shades of "I'd love it if we beat them".

  • Comment number 83.

    Further to all of this....Benitez has just launched an amazing attack on Ferguson in his pre-match press conference before tomorrow's game against Stoke.

    You can read that story on the football page, but - and this is purely my opinion - I am surprised Benitez has decided to get involved in this manner.

    Ferguson commented that Liverpool might get nervous and remarked on fixtures, but surely time has told us the best way to play this is to stay silent.

    For every fan saying Benitez has told Ferguson where to go, you will have another saying he has just had his "Kevin Keegan moment."

    Let me know your thoughts. Was Benitez's outburst a sign of strength or weakness?

  • Comment number 84.

    As a chelsea fan, I'm obviously going to say that Chelsea will win the league. But I think every club this season has its worrys despite what position there in.

    Liverpool have a long time to fend off the others, Man Utd aren't scoring as much as they were, Chelsea can't find that plan B (a dribbler), Arsenal are in danger of losing there top four status despite still being in a title race.

    Every team from as high as Hull and Fulham, must be thinking a poor run and its a possibility of Championship football we'll be fending off rather than coming close to a Uefa Cup spot.

    This season is fantastic gone are the days of dead certs for regulation and european places. This time a few seasons ago Chelsea were 17 points clear at the top, and despite trailing liverpool by 3 now, were still 1 up on our points tally last season.

  • Comment number 85.

    Phil - if you could get our comments moderated a bit faster we might be able to keep up with the developing news! Or has the moderating team gone for a long friday afternoon pub lunch?

  • Comment number 86.

    Just read that, interesting. Loved the last 4 paragraphs about how the fixture list can be made so SAF cannot complain.

  • Comment number 87.

    Chelsea had a couple of good years when ManU and Arsenal were rebuilding (Arsenal still are), and Liverpool are still looking up to the others, even from their present position, and Villa are not out of the top 3 either!

    Der, wen I went to skul 4th was outside the top 3

    Liverpool will be motivated to keep top spot. It should still be a comfortable win if not an easy one. Don't forget, there are no easy games in the EPL. So the fact that MU have the other 3 of the big 4 at home is more of a chance to drop points. Who wants to play the other 17 teams who are fightiong relegation?

    MU v CFC should be real cuptie type game. Will either field a weakened team? Can't wait. 2 of the potential title winners, this late in the season. How they play will have more bearing on the outcome of the EPL than the actual result. If Chelsea lose, they are not out of it. But as has been stated, it has draw written all over it.

    Does anyone else think that 30+M for Berbatov was a great deal (for Spurs). Wait till he starts sulking again. Ronaldo is a shadow of last season. Tevez is a very unhappy bunny. In Rooney they have one of the best players in the world.

    Chelsea have class throughout their squad. It just need firing up. With Esiien and Carvalho coming back, that may be just what's needed.

    Likewise Torres and Sktel.

    The 2nd half of the season should be great.

    Can't wait. Could go to the last weekend, with still 3 teams in it.

    Just like the relegation situation of a couple of years ago, when Baggies were botton at the start of the last day, and escaped. A record that can't be beaten.

    By the way, monopoly or duopoly what does it matter this is a blog not a literary competition.

  • Comment number 88.

    What I love about Man U fans this season is the assumption that they will get better.

    I think there team is weaker than it was last year. Scholes, Giggs, Vander Sar are all older and less able than last year. Replacements like Nani and Andersson although both have immense talent, they are not ready to be replacements just yet.

    and the addition of Berbatov has unsettled the attack, and may result in the loss of one of Utd's best players in Tevez.

    I think UTd may improve, but it will be through the increased form of Ronaldo - not gelling better as a team.

    Chelsea themselves have weaknesses that were not there prior to this season. Scolari is in charge, but the squad (with the exception of Bosingwa and Deco) is still Mourinho's. It will take time for Chelsea to settle properly under Scolari - to demand instant success from Scolari is a strech too far. They have players to win games to challenge, but will not reach the all conquering force of a couple years back.

    Liverpool have weaknesses too, but have a style of play that is good enough to win. Just need a wee bit of luck along the way

  • Comment number 89.

    To be fair Phil the Kop only ever make any noise in the European matches. Otherwise the Liverpool crowd is generally poor in that respect (but heck their Scandinavian so most of the chants wouldn't make sense anyway).

    As for the League title well it all depends on Gerrard really. If he ends up injured or in jail then I don't think that Liverpool have any chance at all, if he stays fit then they might have a shout.

  • Comment number 90.

    Benitez is a fool, and is clearly feeling the pressure. Claiming Ferguson is immune from punishment, when he seems to get punished all the time, whereas Wenger is attacking other managers and refs all the time and getting away with it.

    Dont think Benitez is having a keegan moment, but just showing the signs of pressure.

    Also can these comments be moderated quicker please, am very bored at work and need my read!!!!

  • Comment number 91.

    You should take this blog off line and replace it with one that relates to the press conference that Rafa Benitez has just given. It is absolutely brilliant, shades of Keegan or what? Rafa, you have so far gone up in my estimation, and that is a compliment indeed from a die hard chelsea fan.

  • Comment number 92.

    To Mr Frederer...I think Benitez had a stroke of good fortune when he was not able to spend £18m on Gareth Barry and was therefore effectively forced to keep Xabi Alonso.

    Alonso has since produced the best form of his Liverpool career and played a key role this season.

    This, in my opinion, was more by accident than by design. In other words, a stroke of luck - a quality most successful managers enjoy.

    In fairness to Benitez, he should also be congratulated in marshalling his squad to the top of the Premier League. It would be churlish to say otherwise.

    Liverpool's presence at the top is not down to luck.

  • Comment number 93.

    Phil, Happy new year, Ferguson couldn't have written this article better (for Utd interest) himself.

    this multitalented attack hasn't flourished yet, do you stop to analyse the reason?

    Berbatov has scored 3 goals in the league, but he's not a flop, Rooney return is not much better (although this is hardly a surprise anymore), Tevez is warming the bench cause of those two underperforming "stars" must play, Van der Saar has been quite erratic, and given the stage at he is in his career won't get any better. Yet, reading your article you will think that all is fantastic at Utd. and they didn't perform at their glorious level cause they didn't feel like it, are you sure the Ferguson's mind games are not affecting you already?

    just worried for you.

  • Comment number 94.

    Fergie will be absolutely delighted to hear this retort from Benitez. It's the whole reason he does these tiresome little verbal jabs anyway.

    It's to see how much he can get under someone's skin, and if he can then he'll be readying more verbal attacks. Benitez would've done a lot better to just ignore it.

  • Comment number 95.

    Hi Phil,

    Have you watched Rafa's press confress yet?

    I advise you to watch it and comment on it here please!

    I love you Rafa!


  • Comment number 96.

    To Mcnulty - Benitez's handling of Alonso since has been excellent man management though. He could have faced a scenario where a disiullusioned Alonso lacked motivation. Instead he got Alonso to raise his level, (to his masterful best), by making it clear that unless he did so he was surplus to requirements. (To be fair, part of that is also due to Alonso's fantastic character).

    Regarding whether or not Benitez just had his Keegan moment, that will be judged in the short term on whether we win at Stoke, and in the long term on whether we win the league.

  • Comment number 97.

    Phil defines amazing as:-

    'To affect with great wonder; astonish. See Synonyms at surprise.
    2. Obsolete To bewilder; perplex.'

    What is 'amazing' about Benitez doing his homework on Ferguson's whinging?

    Maybe I'm just not as easily pleased as some, or that my raison d'etre does not rely on being sensational where it is not warranted.

  • Comment number 98.

    phil, to say he has had a 'kevin keagan' moment is a little off, keagan was quite obviosly riled by fergie... n we all kno benitez isnt, if anything it smacked of sarcasm to me...

    he got the first words in technically, fergies rant came on the bk of him whining about the fixture list (n note her the 'sarcastic' remark to fergie compiling the fixture list).

    what ever fergie says bk is going to make him look bad really, he is gonna look like he's being petculent and spitting the dummy out n ifor 1 congratulate rafa for having the bottle to take him on like this.. n right b4 a game that will more than likely have a fair few talking point, many of which im sure fergie will deflect onto the refs.. if a bad result pops up, or united get a penalty against em.. n then he does attack the refs verbally.. benitez will b vindicated, n fergie knows this, so he wont (most likely)

    absolutley brilliant i say from benitez, n if that was fergie or jose we would b on here talkin like i am about how great it was, the rant n the timeing was impeccable

    i want more :P

  • Comment number 99.

    I am not making a judgement on whether Benitez is right or wrong to attack Ferguson.

    Time will tell, as Mr Frederer rightly says.

    I just gave a personal opinion, which was that I believe it is better to say nothing in these instances - or maybe laugh it off.

    My belief is that Benitez has stoked the fires - but I will wait to decide if this ultimately proves to have been a wise move.

    One thing is for certain - it has livened things up hasn't it?

  • Comment number 100.

    Phil, re post (92).

    Saying that Rafa was 'lucky' in keeping Alonso makes the assumption that the team would not have performed equally well or better with Barry.

    Of course it's impossibly to know this, and saying anything otherwise is pure speculation. Therefore your assertion that Rafa was lucky is completely baseless.


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