Liverpool's defeat to Chelsea
at the weekend has prompted talk that their title bid has ended already.
But it is far too early to dismiss their hopes as easily as
that. Things can change quickly in football, and all it will take is a couple
of results to go their way and they will be right back in contention.
We've all heard that the last team to win the title after
having lost three of their first eight games was Manchester United over 40
years ago. But records, even ones that stretch back that far, are there to be
A home win against Chelsea
coupled with a double over United - both feats that were achieved by Benitez
and his team last season - and the picture begins to look much different.
The problem at the moment is that their form is a far cry
from that which made them undeniably the best team in the country during the
final third of last season.
They don't seem to be playing with any spirit at the moment.
Certainly they didn't against Chelsea.
Benitez puts so much into the Champions League that when it
goes wrong for them - as it did in Florence - heads understandably go down on
their return to the Premier League.
And of course, Stamford
Bridge is far from the ideal place to
go when you're coming off the back of a thumping in Europe.
Liverpool seem to have
reverted to their negative old ways. They played that way in Europe
and got what they deserved. The last thing they needed after that was a trip to
Benitez has never enjoyed going to the Bridge and yet again
their performance was under par. Fernando Torres's head dropped after being
dominated by commanding performances from John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho and
when he isn't firing, Liverpool suffer badly.
Steven Gerrard was the only one who looked to have something
about him but he will need some support from his team-mates if they are to
salvage something from the remainder of the season.
- - -
Alex Ferguson can blame the referee all he likes but the
plain fact of the matter is that his United side have not been performing so
far this season.
Much like Liverpool, United
are a shadow of the team we saw last season.
Sunderland fully deserved
their point at Old Trafford and should maybe even have had more.
Compared to their visit to Manchester
last season, which was one of the most negative away performances ever seen in
the Premier League, Sunderland warranted
something out of the game.
Kenwyne Jones caused problems all day long and served to
highlight the defensive weaknesses that have blighted United's campaign so far.
Enforced changes in personnel at the back due to injuries
have not helped while uncertainty in the goalkeeping position has only added to
Further forward, United's lack of pace was also exposed
against Sunderland. Ferguson's sides always have pace - that's
what he builds his teams around - but since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo,
it has been sorely missed.
Before Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs used to provide it but that
attribute has long left the Welshman. Nani or Antonio Valencia are quick but
far from blistering. And Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-sung are quick off the mark,
but nothing more.
United simply seem to be lacking a cutting edge. And with Chelsea looking so impressive at the moment, the
champions, like Liverpool, must raise their
game if they are to sustain a title challenge this season.