So much has gone wrong for Liverpool in January. They have recorded no league wins, their captain has appeared in court, their manager got himself involved in stupid mind games with Sir Alex Ferguson and Everton forced them into a horribly-timed FA Cup replay at Goodison Park. Oh, and Manchester United have been in the form of their lives as well.
While their fiercest title rivals from across the M62 have won every league game in 2009 so far, Liverpool have severely struggled to earn points at places like Stoke and Wigan, as well as having had to face the misery of being held at home by near neighbours Everton in both the league and cup.
United have pulled two points clear at the summit of the Premier League, while still holding a valuable game in hand, and their current form is so impressive that it seems almost impossible that Liverpool, or indeed Chelsea, Arsenal or Aston Villa, will catch them up and snatch the league title from their grasp. Their football is too slick, their goals are too plentiful and their defence is far too stubborn.
United’s 5-0 hammering of West Brom on Tuesday night showed how imperious they are at the moment. They were unbreakable in defence, smashing the record for the number of minutes without conceding a league goal, and they were unstoppable in attack, scoring more goals than Liverpool have in all of their league games this year put together. From back to front, from left to right, United are currently better than all the rest.
The season still has a long way to go of course, but it would take an extremely brave man to bet against Fergie lifting the league trophy aloft once again on the last day of the campaign in May.
For Liverpool, it seems like only a miracle will stop that from happening. Because while they have watched United playing out of their skin, they have hit a terrible patch of form themselves.
Since Benitez’s sudden tirade against Sir Alex Ferguson, Liverpool have not played well at all, drawing all of their games in league and cup. They have not created many clear chances to score, resulting in a dreadful goals tally of three in four games, and they have defended bizarrely at times. Lucas’ clumsy trip against Wigan on Wednesday night summed up the recent performances, and his displays as a player as well.
Benitez’s decisions have not helped Liverpool either. Bringing Steven Gerrard off with seven minutes to go against Wigan bordered on unforgivable giving that he was the one player who could snatch victory for The Reds after Mido had equalised. His starting line-up was not his strongest either, because Lucas played instead of Alonso and Babel started in place of Riera. So the both the manager and players have to take the blame.
So with United playing so well and Liverpool playing so poorly, there seems to be only one outcome in the Premier League title race. It would take a huge turn in fortunes for Gerrard and co. to overtake the champions at the top of the league.
And let’s not forget the other possible candidates for the league title. Chelsea are still not performing well, but they remain only a few points off the summit, and Aston Villa are winning so many games at the moment that removing them from the mix would be daft, though not many actually believe they will end up as the triumphant ones. Even Arsenal cannot quite be dismissed, but they, Chelsea and Villa will need to drop very few points between now and they end of the season if they wish to continue as contenders.
But Liverpool are still the team with most work to do. A lot of the country is relying on them to knock United off their perch as England’s top club side, and to make this season’s title race more competitive. At the moment, though, their current slip in form means that Liverpool winning the Premier League seems an unfathomable idea, rather like a typical builder reading the Daily Telegraph.
It is not all doom and gloom for Liverpool though, and if they manage to beat Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday afternoon then they will still believe the league title can be theirs. But with Manchester United recording victories so easily at the present moment, it seems unlikely that a miracle will come along and save Liverpool from another title-less season.
But they may find miracles help them out in the cup competitions instead once more, because we all know that has happened before.