Why pool can be kings

UNITED STATES - When Liverpool lifted their 18th league title in 1990, their long dominance of English football showed no signs of abating. Nearly a quarter of a century later, they are still waiting for title No. 19. Brendan Rodgers' side are well placed to end that barren run this season, and here are the 10 reasons:

10 BRENDAN RODGERS

The Liverpool boss can be annoyingly self-reverential, and his ego is there for all to see - every time he opens his mouth we're nearly blinded by his glistening new gnashers.

However, steadily, the Northern Irishman's (above) stock is rising. Players who've worked with him at Chelsea, Watford and Swansea marvel at his methods, his strategic approach, analytical mind and forward thinking.

He's also transformed Liverpool into great entertainers, and bringing out the best in players who were ridiculed under previous boss Kenny Dalglish.

9 JORDAN HENDERSON

Talking of players who were ridiculed under Dalglish.

Statistically, Henderson was one of the best attacking midfielders in the Premier League for two seasons running during his time at Sunderland, but, following his £20m ($40m) move to Anfield in June 2011, his technical ability was called into question.

However, that's missing the point - Henderson is an old-fashioned, unselfish midfield workhorse who gallops from box to box from first whistle to last.

In terms of shots, interceptions, tackles and key passes per game, Henderson compares favourably to the EPL's finest .

8 SERGIO AGUERO'S INJURY

Manchester City were so impressive during the 6-3 drubbing of Arsenal last Saturday that it seems barely comprehensible that Manuel Pellegrini's side have already lost four EPL matches.

Striker Sergio Aguero (above) has been at the hub of everything wonderful about City's offensive play that has seen them accumulate 50 goals in just 12 home matches in all competitions.

However, his anticipated six-week injury lay-off is a massive blow for the title favourites. The Argentinian could miss seven crucial games, including the visit of Liverpool on Thursday.

7 THE OWNERS

John Henry and his Fenway Sports Group should be given a lot of credit for Liverpool's re-emergence at the top table of English football.

Yes, they've made mistakes since taking ownership in late 2010 - the appointment of Dalglish as manager and the trust they placed in the transfer acumen of Damien Comolli proved costly.

However, they have since taken the club forward with an understanding of the game, and what it means to the people of Liverpool and the millions of fans who follow the club around the world.

If Rodgers needs reinforcements in January, his judgment is almost certain to be backed.

6 WINNING WITHOUT STEVIE G

At some point in the not too distant future, Liverpool will have to face up to life without their captain. As soon as Gerrard (above) limped off with a hamstring injury during the 4-1 win over West Ham, the doom-mongers predicted that Liverpool's title challenge was dead in the water.

However, the performance against Spurs at White Hart Lane - a venue where the Reds had lost six times in a row - showed that there's plenty of life without Stevie G, especially now that Henderson has emerged as a player of true EPL class.

5 NO EUROPEAN DISTRACTIONS

Firstly, it's embarrassing that a club of Liverpool's stature aren't involved in European competition. However, with regards to the Reds' title chances, it could be a huge blessing in disguise.

Liverpool last qualified for the Champions League in 2009/10, when they were demoted to the Europa League, but the Reds should be back where they belong next season.

As their title rivals recover from high-octane encounters in far-flung corners of Europe in midweek, the Reds will be resting and focusing on their next battle on the domestic front.

4 PHILIPPE COUTINHO

Has there been a better piece of transfer business this year? The brilliant Brazilian has proved to be a shrewd investment since joining from Inter Milan in January for £8.5m ($17m).

His close control, vision and sprinkling of stardust has endeared him to the fans.

Operating in his preferred position, just behind the striker, Coutinho (above) has been given the licence to roam and drop hand-grenades all over the pitch.

Liverpool have lost just one of the 21 games Coutinho has started. They have also won three in a row and scored 14 times in the process.

3 SQUAD DEPTH

What Sunday's win over Tottenham proved was that Liverpool have plenty of options at their disposal. In the absence of Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge and Daniel Agger, the Reds were still too strong for hapless Spurs.

Fullback John Flanagan's emergence from the youth ranks and pacy winger Raheem Sterling's re-emergence from a spell of average form and off-the-field problems, have been huge bonuses.

Add to the mix the likes of former title winner Kolo Toure, proven defender Jose Enrique, and the skills and trickery of Victor Moses, and there's enough depth to make Liverpool a truly potent force.

2 WIDE OPEN RACE

City may be favourites, Manchester United may be the champions, Arsenal may be top of the pile for now, and Chelsea may have the Special One, but none of those teams have shown any sign of running away with the league.

Question marks remain against all four - Pellegrini's failure to win anything of note since leaving South America over a decade ago; the management or mismanagement of David Moyes; Arsenal's backbone and Chelsea's creaking squad.

Make no mistake, this season represents the perfect opportunity for a team to emerge from the pack.

1 LUIS SUAREZ

Seventeen goals in 12 games. It speaks volumes. They're the numbers that only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have approached in recent seasons.

Liverpool deserve great credit for keeping the Uruguayan at Anfield during the off-season when he seemed destined for pastures new, and the Reds are now reaping the rewards.

Handing him the captaincy during Gerrard's absence was another masterstroke in their continued efforts to ward off potential suitors in January.

If Liverpool remain among the title challengers next month, then surely Suarez won't turn down the opportunity to help them lift a first title in 24 years.

I think it's too early to speak about that (winning the league). If we continue this level for the next two or three weeks, we can win the league or finish in the top four. But it's important that we concentrate.

- Liverpool striker Luis Suarez (below, right)

npsports@sph.com.sg


Get The New Paper for more stories.