Liverpool still have a long way to go before they can win the title

Michael Regan

Liverpool look increasingly certain to secure their top four position, and a title challenge is even being talked up now. But the Reds don't have the defence right now, and they won't have the squad for next year.

Across the table, defence is beginning to win out over attack wherever anything is being fought for. West Ham United have pulled clear of the relegation zone on a run of three wins and three clean sheets. Tony Pulis is guiding Crystal Palace to safety after shoring up their defence, and Fulham hit rock bottom largely due to being unable to keep opposition attackers at bay.

Further up the league, things are little different. Manchester United lost against Stoke City and Fulham by conceding on virtually every attack they allowed. Tottenham Hotspur may be looking at a renewed charge too, if they can keep Younes Kaboul fit (and Michael Dawson out of the team.) And of course, Chelsea look like 2-0ing their way to a Premier League title. It's old received wisdom, but time and again it is proved true: attackers can win you games, but defences win you titles, cups, survival, and the fabled fourth place trophy.

One team that will look to ignore the received wisdom -- because they have no alternative -- is Liverpool. Their attack is perhaps the most lethal in the division, yet has had to cover for a defence which is looking ever more out of its depth. Their back five is the reason they have suffered the shock defeats they have this season, and it was responsible for them struggling to beat a rotten Fulham side last night.

History shows that Liverpool are unlikely to mount a title challenge, in that case. Their situation is not too dissimilar to that of 2008-09, where at their most gung-ho, freewheeling spirit, they could thrash Real Madrid and Manchester United, but also completely lose their discipline in a costly 4-4 draw. Yet without the individuals to carry off a rigid style, when they attempted to shore things up, they were liable to draw 0-0 with mid-table sides. So far, Brendan Rodgers, perhaps widely, has not attempted the latter course to try and steer his side right.

Ultimately, of course, Liverpool do not need to find a middle-ground in terms of their approach -- they simply need better defenders. But that's out of the question for the rest of the season, and worryingly, they may find their opportunities severely reduced next season.

Manchester United's woes will be a source of both comfort and amusement on Merseyside, although they still have Tottenham Hotspur and perhaps Everton to contend with in the fight for fourth. It's possible that things could become so condensed that both aims will blend into one, but right now it looks that the current top four are the ones that will end the season in those positions.

The problem for Liverpool is that they may have to have a very good summer in order just to stand still. Steven Gerrard may be on the wane and playing deeper, but he had perhaps a classic performance yesterday in causing pundits to ooh and aah over one pass while ignoring that he was supposed to be marshalling a midfield that let Fulham get at them far too easily. The rest of their team is not ageing, but Liverpool are hugely benefiting from not being involved in European competition. Once that advantage goes, they'll need to buy several squad players to be able to compete with the same intensity in the league.

Whether the club will have the financial clout to do that as well as significantly improve their team -- they need a left-back and a centre-back at the very least, ideally another centre-back and a goalkeeper too, while a replacement for Lucas wouldn't go amiss -- is debatable. For now, their irresistible attack can mask a lot of problems, but it surely can't propel them to a title against teams with far fewer flaws. That will be no problem because nobody expected Liverpool to win a title this year anyway, but a serious challenge for one may be further off than it currently seems.

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