"Weak spots have been dealt with, but it remains to be seen whether the players Rafa Benitez has brought in will be good enough to help Liverpool make that next big step towards mounting a sustained title challenge."

- Tony Barrett, Liverpool Echo
10/09/2008 08:13, Report by Tony Barrett

Local report: Liverpool

Tony Barrett follows Anfield's Reds across land and sea for the Liverpool Echo. He spoke to Inside United ahead of Saturday's clash...

On the surface, Liverpool have made massive improvements during the summer as Rafa Benitez tries to build a team worthy of challenging for the league title – and that’s before any new signings are even mentioned.

The departures of Harry Kewell and John Arne Riise are positive and a clear indication that, like the fans, Benitez has no fondness for deadwood. Weak spots have been dealt with, but it remains to be seen whether the players Bentiez bought will be good enough to help us make that next step towards mounting a sustained title challenge.

Robbie Keane is a proven Premier League performer and there are few doubts about his ability to form a top-class partnership with the magnificent Fernando Torres. But the likes of Andrea Dossena, Philipp Degen, Diego Cavalieri and David N’gog are untried entities in England and Liverpool’s progress will depend largely on how well the new boys adapt.

It's fair to say Liverpool have a wonderful spine to their team, from Pepe Reina in goal through to Torres in attack, but the question marks about the flanks still remain.

New full-backs Degen and Dossena arrive at Anfield with a reputation for getting forward at every opportunity and their attacking inclinations will have to be accommodated into Benitez’s regimented system.

Left winger Albert Riera's summer arrival may satisfy the longing for wingers, a wait drawn out by the fact that players who get chalk on their boots seem to be a dying breed.

Width in midfield will also have to be provided by Ryan Babel, Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun, even if they all prefer to come inside rather than hug the touchline.

On the pitch it remains a work in progress, while off it there are still issues to be resolved. We’ve seen from last year how problems behind the scenes can have a negative effect on the players. It's up to the owners and the board to ensure the club doesn't lose focus again.

There cannot be any repeat of the in-fighting that plagued the last campaign because if it broke out again it would cause untold damage to the club and seriously hinder its ability to compete with the other big clubs.


Premier League