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HENRY WINTER ON OUR TITLE CHANCES Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph 07 August 2007
The Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter speaks to to discuss the Reds' chances of enjoying a successful 2007-08 campaign
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First of all Henry, what do you make of the new-look Liverpool? There are two very encouraging signs for me about the Liverpool team for the 2007-2008 season. One is the form of Fernando Torres, who I think is a terrific buy and has the potential to be the 20 goal a season marksman that Liverpool have been crying out for. If Torres had been in the Liverpool team for the Champions League final against AC Milan I think they would have won the game. Perhaps the most encouraging thing of all was to hear Rafael Benitez after the Feyenoord game, when he came out and said Steven Gerrard will be playing a lot more in central midfield. I'm a great fan of Gerrard and he is the heartbeat of the Liverpool team because he is such a dynamic player. Benitez can play him there now because he has the wingers and I also think Yossi Benayoun is a very astute signing. What difference will the new arrivals make to this team? I really like Benayoun because he is a very clever player. He is a skilful customer who very rarely gives the ball away. He will give the team width down the right hand side which will keep Gerrard in the middle. Voronin is a hard working player and the key thing for me is Benitez now has quality options in his squad. I like the look of Ryan Babel. I watched him playing for Holland in the Under-21 Championships and he really caught the eye. Babel often started down the left side and then drifted into the box. He is not an out and out centre forward but he is such a versatile player and I can see him partnering any of the strikers Benitez has. When you get someone like Marco Van Basten saying Babel is going to be an international global star of the future then you realise he must be a bit special. It's a compliment to Liverpool Football Club, the quality of the fans, the ambition of the new owners and the stature of the manager that an ambitious young player like Babel wanted to go to Anfield. Could Babel be one of the surprises of the season and be a big hit in the Premiership? I think he probably could and he certainly has the potential. Defenders won't have played against him before and they simply won't know what to expect from him. He could settle quickly like Riise did when he first arrived. Babel could certainly surprise a lot of opponents this season. And do you think Torres can score the goals to lead Liverpool to that elusive league title this season? I think sometimes when a new striker comes into this country they need a little bit of time to settle. Benitez knows what Torres can do and he knows everything about him. I think Torres could well light up the Premiership. I can just see Liverpool fans getting excited when they see Gerrard playing those through balls to Torres. What Torres has got which is essential for the Premiership is burning pace. Frankly Morientes didn't have that when he joined Liverpool and that is the difference. Torres is so quick and he will frighten Premiership defences. You look at Torres and he's also got something to prove himself. He's come to one of the world's biggest clubs and he has to go and prove he is one of the world's best players. I just think he will be a fantastic signing for Liverpool. Who do you see as Liverpool's most influential player this season? Simple - Steven Gerrard. I think anyone would say that and even the most ardent of Manchester United supporters would say that too. Gerrard is the most important English player in the country. He is an outstanding player who is at his peak and he will be at Liverpool for the rest of his career. He has got quite a few medals already but he wants that title medal. Gerrard stood on the Kop as a kid and saw Liverpool pick up countless titles. I also feel Jamie Carragher is very influential to Liverpool. Carragher for me is one of the best centre halves in Europe. I thought he was outstanding in the Champions League last season and I don't think Ronaldinho will have as difficult a game as Carragher gave him, particularly at the Nou Camp. Which other players do you predict will have a big impact? Yes, Jermaine Pennant. This is a big season for him. If Pennant plays as well as he did in the first half of the Champions League final then I can see him playing for England. Are Liverpool genuine title contenders? Definitely. I don't think it will be a two horse race like last season. I've heard a lot of people say that Benitez is very much driven by Europe because the Champions League flows in his veins, but I just think he has this burning desire to win the Barclays Premier League with Liverpool. I think the title race is going to be very open this year and for me it's a three horse race with Liverpool challenging Chelsea and Manchester United. With those two teams focused on each other I think that will allow Liverpool to take advantage. How important is is that Liverpool get off to a good start? It's essential, but I believe Liverpool will get off to a good start this season. Benitez always has the team very fit and, although they had a disappointing start last season, I can see them coming out of the blocks much quicker this time. Can any of the other teams cause a surprise? Tottenham have spent well in the summer so I see them up there challenging for the top four. My prediction is for Liverpool to finish in the top two this season but it's all about how quickly Torres settles down. They have that strong spine. They have a world class goalkeeper in Pepe Reina, a world class centre half in Jamie Carragher and a world class midfielder in Steven Gerrard. If Torres proves to be a world class finisher then Liverpool will be flying and Manchester United and Chelsea will be fearful.



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