Chelsea may have started the season as favorites, and Liverpool were in the driver's seat at the start of the new year, but United's romp to victory on Sunday has everyone talking threepeat. And for good reason. That performance screamed statement game. Juan noted in his last post that United are going to run away with the league. Hell, my Chelsea-supporting friend even texted me from Kenya (I hope that doesn't show up on my bill...) to express his own conviction on that point. Frankly, I don't know if they'll run away with it, but I agree with Fernando that the Red Devils are back to being odds-on favorites.
The only thing that has kept me from "crowning their asses," so to speak, is that I still think Liverpool have what it takes. I recognize that's certainly not the prevailing view at the moment, especially after the Stoke performance, but let's assess all the factors.
Pool are currently top of the league. They're just now bringing Torres back to full fitness. Keane, a bust for most of the first half, showed some signs that he was coming back to life near the end of the year. That's a lot of potential striking power up there. Riera has provided much-needed width. Babel is a nice weapon to be held in reserve and can run at tired legs in the second half. Alonso (noticeably absent against Stoke) has returned to his form of three, four years ago and I can no longer guffaw sarcastically after I refer to him as the "best passing midfielder in the world." These days it's more of a rueful chuckle. He's actually getting back there.
What I like most about them is the absurd depth they have at CB. In this respect, they are the anti-Arsenal. Carragher is still extremely solid, and what's more, he's so well-respected (some would say "overrated") by officials that he gets at least one massive no-call every two games. Hyypia is an ageless wonder, brilliant in the air. Skrtel is on his way to becoming Nemanja Vidic Pt. 2, and not just because he's a scary Eastern European man with no neck. He's strong in the air and tackles well. Dan Agger is an extremely skilled defender who is being kept out of the side by a 35 year old. Need I say more?
Really, their only weakness is at the wingback positions. Aurelio and Arbeloa are hardly a dreamteam back there. And with the promising Emiliano Insua (this kid is legit) away on international duty for a month or so, that's a big blow. But Carragher can always deputize on the right if someone gets hurt or loses form.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that one guy who plays in midfield. You know, the one who's always sort of scowling? He looks like he's playing with something very sour in his mouth. Anyway, he's pretty good. And he always seems to score goals at exactly the moment they're needed. What was his name? Crap, I'll have to get back to you on that one.
At any rate, I think there's enough there to sustain a legitimate title challenge. And frankly, I hope they can. But mark your calendars for March 14, 2009. Manchester United vs. Liverpool. If Pool win at Old Trafford, they win the league. You heard it here first.
PS: Juan, that quote offends me. The only Double Arsenal are going to accomplish (especially if they enter February sans a certain Russian playmaker) is the double of finishing outside the Champions League qualifying spots and being dumped out of said competition by a resurgent Roma squad. Or put another way, the Double of me being both drunk and angry.