Early Doors

Liverpool drop the ball

Early Doors

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Fact one: Liverpool have
not won the league for nearly 20 years.

Fact two: Liverpool are
top of the Premier League.

Fact three: Liverpool were
booed off last night.

Rarely can such depression have engulfed a team that has
just gone to the summit of the Premier League table as after last night's
goalless draw between Liverpool and West Ham

Given lack of recent success, you might think they would be
thrilled to be top of the pile - instead negativity wafted around Anfield like
a stale fart.

Liverpool fans feel that, with their history
and resources, they should be contending regularly for the title. But then Preston still feel they 'belong' in the top flight because
they were good 120 years ago.

There are probably Corinthian Casuals fans knocking about
the place predicting a return to greatness for this sleeping giant.

Over the last 10 seasons, Liverpool
have finished an average of 19.4 points behind the eventual champions. Not even
once have they been genuine title contenders - not even on the solitary
occasion they finished second in 2001/02.

Another stat: Liverpool
have averaged 2.27 points per game this season. If they keep up their present
pace, they will score 86 - certainly a potential championship-winning total.

Why are the fans so angry when this is their best chance of
winning the league for two decades?

Yes, Liverpool were
rubbish last night. They were more wasteful than sausage rolls at Paul McCartney's
birthday party, more uncomfortable than Laurence Olivier on Celebrity Family
Fortunes and about as composed as a Kerry Katona appearance on daytime TV.

But every team has to endure the odd hiccup. Manchester United
lost to Bolton, West Ham and Manchester
City (twice) on their way
to the double last year. Like death, taxes and an Only Fools and Horses Christmas
repeat, occasional bad results are inevitable.

It all comes down to expectations. United fans have become
bloated on success, making them complacent and arrogant. The thing is - they
are almost certainly right.

Who cares if they are six points off the top? The
unchallenged assumption is that their fortunes will improve, and they probably

Liverpool, on the other hand, are nervous.
They have seen their side chuck away promising starts enough times to be
looking anxiously over their shoulders.

They know that United or Chelsea or both will come on a late-season
charge so they set themselves arbitrary and unrealistic targets.

Liverpool must be nine points clear of United
by New Year otherwise everything is lost. The fans are edgy and that is
affecting the team.

Benitez admitted as much after the game, saying that his
strikers are suffering from a crisis of confidence and had to fend of questions
about him re-signing Michael Owen.

If it were Fergie in charge of Liverpool, he would have
slammed the ref for some minor error, berated West Ham for parking the team bus
in front of the goal and proclaimed Robbie Keane a "f***ing great

- - -

Well done to the Ballon d'Or jury, who gave Cristiano
Ronaldo a much-needed ego boost after his ignominious red card at the weekend.

The bad news for Ronaldo's team-mates is that he has
promised the success won't change him a bit, saying: "This morning, when I
arrive at training, I will be the same guy." Great.

The massive margin by which he claimed the prize proves
beyond doubt that Ronaldo is the best player in the world. You don't have to
like him, but he is the man. People seem keen on adding the word 'period' after
sentences like that last one.

It is easy to find fault with the players you see every
week, while idealising the exotic, exciting fare on offer abroad. There may be a
grass-related proverb that expresses this better.

Kaka is a wonderful talent, but he would not be thought of
as such a clean-living golden boy if English fans saw him diving his way round
the pitches of Serie A every weekend.

Lionel Messi might be sensational in a 60-second highlights
package of Barcelona thrashing Basel 5-0, but even Bosko Balaban looked good
on video. Other times Messi disappears from games.

Even Pele's most famous moments involve him vaguely cocking
things up - the Gordon Banks save, the shot wide from halfway, dummying the
keeper followed by the missed open goal.

The point is, there are rubbish players, good players and just
occasionally great players. But there are no perfect players.

So let's just enjoy the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo is fun
to watch and even more fun to mock. You'll miss him when he's gone.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "City have good players but the
mentality of a small side. What they lack is the mentality of champions. At
Real Madrid, I learned a will to win. Here they have a good team but are
content with just finishing fifth or sixth." Robinho does a Gallas on Manchester City.

are going to sign of Ajax Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in January to cover for his
injured countryman Ruud van Nistelrooy. That was easy.

COMING UP: Two Carling Cup quarter-finals tonight,
including a bunch of North London-based teens brutalising Burnley.
Follow all the action LIVE from 19:45 UK time!

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