Can Liverpool turn potential into success?

Following the defeat of their bitter rivals Manchester United two weeks back, Liverpool’s impressive win in the Merseyside derby demonstrated that the Reds are capable of winning the tough games, ensuring that their nine game unbeaten run remained unblemished. Liverpool are looking good, but the question is how good.

The Reds’ last competitive defeat came at the back end of last season, losing to Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, while the last time the Reds lost in the league was way back in March at the hands of the eventual champions from Old Trafford. Only the best have been able to breach Rafa’s rearguard, and poor teams have been confidently swept aside during this period.

Liverpool has the whiff of serious title contenders. They presently occupy second place in the division, level on points with Chelsea, and riding high for their early season endeavours. Yet deep-down, there remains that gut-instinct which gnaws away at Liverpool as potential Premier League winners.

The positives however are so much nicer to focus on. Many have commentated that despite the results, Liverpool are actually not played that well. Thankfully, the old book of football clichés has taught that great teams win even when their performances are below-par. In fact, some go so far as to say that winning while playing badly is the sign of a true champion. And looking down Liverpool’s squad details, they look like they are fully equipped with a group of champions who are destined for success.

The Kop are blessed to see such a solid spine to the team. Fernando Torres has been speculator even since he touched down from Spain, a livewire and expert finisher, every team in the Premier League would love to have him in their line-up. Through the middle, the irreplaceable Steven Gerrard is a giant, who most recently reasserted his value to the club by delivering a monster performance at Goodison Park in both a defensive and offensive capacity. Backed up in the midfield by Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso, Liverpool are rarely overrun in the centre of the pitch. And then there is the rock solid centre-half partnership of Carragher and Skrtel, who provide the foundations of a medal winning side.

Credit is also due to manager Rafa Benitez. It should be noted that the current Liverpool squad is devoid of the Spaniard’s main summer transfer target Gareth Barry (step forward Rick Parry). Yet no-one is talking about the lack of bodies across the Reds’ midfield. And need we forget that lingering in the background of Anfield is the knowledge that Jurgen Klinsmann was approached to replace Rafa in the top job, stadium plans have been shelved, and the two warring American owners are still acting like two bitchy schoolgirls, refusing to communicate with each other. Despite resembling a bad TV soap opera, Liverpool has proved successful in spite of all this drama.

Nevertheless, doubts expose holes in Liverpool’s long term ability to deliver trophies. To begin with there is the old adage that only one team can win any one competition at any one time. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all fancy their chances against the Reds, and there is a little to suggest that Liverpool (at this stage) would confidently beat any of their peers to the winner’s podium.

History also is a thorn in Liverpool’s side. Good starts at Anfield are not uncommon, last season Benitez’s charges opened with a fourteen game unbeaten streak only to walk away with nothing at the season’s end. What undermined Liverpool then, and what may yet affect Liverpool now, was their ability to sustain long term periods of recording back-to-back wins. Draws were the Achilles heel at Anfield last year. This time round, after sharing the spoils at Villa Park and home to Stoke, there is little to convince observers that this time around the Reds will consistently turn one point into three.

There are still so many question-marks open at Liverpool. Can Robbie Keane deliver on his £20m price tag and forge a successful partnership with El Nino? Can Rafa’s rotation policy, which has failed to reap rewards over a long 38 game domestic season, finally prove to be the winning formula. And can the owners, who have so often seemed intent on destroying the club from the inside, come together to back the manager and lead Liverpool to their first league title in 18 years?

Liverpool fans, by human nature, want to believe in a better, brighter future for their club. But without having hit top gear, and with a history of false starts under their belt, it is risky to buy into the “Liverpool for Champions” campaign at this stage. Nevertheless, fully-stocked with a dressing room of stars who have yet to perform as well as we all know they can, doom-mongers should write Liverpool off at their peril.