Benitez makes title pledge

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez mentioned the unmentionable half a dozen times yesterday while asserting that, if Liverpool can remain top by Christmas, they have an 80 per cent chance of claiming their first title for 19 years.

The Liverpool manager's reticence about using the word "title" reflects a feeling, articulated most strongly by Jamie Carragher, that expectations have too often allowed the club to get ahead of itself. Before the defining win against Chelsea six weeks ago, Benitez was remembering the "invisible" Valencia team which crept up and clinched La Liga (for him) but despite his side's indifferent home form – no goals at Anfield in three hours against Fulham and West Ham – he is clearly becoming more confident. "If we can finish the Christmas period at the top of the table, we will have 80 per cent possibility of winning the title," Benitez said. "One month ago we need to prove something. One month later we are proving to everyone that we can do it."

Benitez (below) seemed unaware that in the last four seasons the top team at Christmas has gone on to win title, but someone had mentioned to him before yesterday that Robbie Keane tends to be at his best in the second half of the season. "In the past in the second half of the season we have normally been better and that is why I think we can win the title," he said, that word surfacing again. "We have some important players not playing. When they are fit they will be a good addition." They include Fernando Torres, missing when Hull visit Anfield today and possibly until 2009, though Benitez took heart from the fact that his compatriot was tired when they spoke yesterday. "It means he is progressing."

Benitez also talked of the need for those members of his side not getting regular starts – Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun have both voiced frustrations – to settle for the roles he is allocating. "You can say you want to play but you have to respect your team-mates," he said. "The only way is working hard in training and showing you want to play."

Benitez does not expect to bring in reinforcements in January – "I would have to bring in better players than I have. That's not easy. It could be expensive," he said, though there is still a strong feeling that Jermaine Pennant will be on his way out of the club.