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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Liverpool Have Not Earned My Faith

Alan Hansen ruined it for everyone. Before his infamous "you'll not win anything with kids" moment on the BBC in the mid-90s, football writers and pundits had the freedom to be as damning as they liked without the fear of a nasty comeuppance. But unfortunately for Hansen, if your kids are David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Nevilles, it turns out that you can win quite a lot and Manchester United fans have been laughing at him ever since.

It is the ghost of Hansen's past that has often prevented me from making such sweeping statements, but even that isn't enough to stop me from writing off his old side for the Premier League title. Liverpool are top of the table, playing their best football in recent years, have taken seven points from their 'big four' clashes and yet I still can't look at them and see a team of champions.

I am a great admirer of Rafa Benitez as a tactician. Watching Liverpool's backline in the flesh is like attending art classes with Leonardo Da Vinchi. They are so organised and so drilled, they move as one fluid force up and down the pitch, squeezing space and suffocating attacks before they even begin. But as good as they are at restricting teams, they aren't always as adept or indeed willing to go on the offensive themselves.

Sunday's clash with Arsenal was a case in point. With half an hour left to play, Cesc Fabregas was in the dressing room having his knee rebuilt and Emmanuel Adebayor was with him, kicking the club cat and wailing at the injustice of it all. That's an opportunity in anyone's book. Arsenal were there for the taking, but Benitez, and we know it was him because Sammy Lee told us that he was directing events down a phoneline, didn't seem interested. For him, a point at The Emirates wasn't worth risking. Despite the man advanatage, poor old Robbie Keane was left to fend for himself up front and the pickings weren't good. Liverpool's only chance after Adebayor's dismissal was a Daniel Agger powerdrive that flashed over the bar. It's good, sensible play for a team who want to qualify for Europe, but it's hardly the stuff of champions.

Liverpool have lost only once this season, and that was a farcial reverse at White Hart Lane, but it's not the defeats that are slowing them down. At the beginning of November, the Reds were preparing for a run of six very winnable games. I wrote at the time that if they secured 16 points then I'd take them seriously as title contenders. They picked up just 12. Not bad, but not good either.

There was a theory that Manchester United needed to lose a title before they knew what it took to win one. They needed to gain the experience of the run-in, to learn all the little things that could go wrong and to know that the points they battled for in December were every bit as important as the ones in May. They were pipped at the post in 1992 by Leeds United, but they laid waste to their rivals for years afterwards. Liverpool may need a dose of the same if they are to step up to the next level.

At the risk of lining myself up for Hansen-style humilation, I saw nothing at The Emirates to suggest that Liverpool know what it is to be champions just yet. You'll not win anything with caution.