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Last Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006, 13:35 GMT
Alan Hansen's column
Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

They say the cream always rises to the top.

With a quarter of the Premiership season gone that is now the case, with Arsenal creeping into third place behind Manchester United and Chelsea to give the table a familiar look.

People talk about predictability but the best sides always prevail and that is what they are.

Arsenal are by far the best team to watch when they are in full flow - and they have a game in hand to cement their position.

They are awesome and have some great players but if you do not allow them time and space to play with a freedom of expression they can struggle.

And without that consistency in performance against the lesser teams it is hard to see them keeping the pressure on and eventually it will be a two-horse race - if it isn't already.

Louis Saha celebrates scoring against Blackburn with Cristiano Ronaldo
Another Saha goal proved decisive in Man Utd's win at Blackburn

Manchester United have turned things around.

I, for one, thought they would miss Ruud van Nistelrooy but Louis Saha has been exceptional, the Wayne Rooney-Cristiano Ronaldo thing has been sorted out, Nemanja Vidic looks like a great buy and Sir Alex Ferguson has ensured that his team is totally motivated.

But beyond playing Chelsea in a fortnight, there is one big test for them on the horizon.

When injuries and suspensions strike, do they have the strength in depth?

That is no certainty but one thing is for sure, Chelsea will not go away. They are a formidable side.

I thought Liverpool would be the team to give Jose Mourinho's side a run for their money this season but here we are in early November and they are already a long way back.

Just look at their away record - one point from a possible 18 - and it is clear there is something wrong somewhere.

It is more difficult to pick up your form on the road than at home and that has been the case since time began.

As soon as the first goal went in against Arsenal, Liverpool's heads went down, the confidence ebbed away.

Steven Gerrard
Gerrard needs to be the focal point of a Liverpool side

But they have been relying on one player for a long time to get them out of trouble and I cannot see how playing that player wide on the right will get them out of trouble now.

It is time to bring Steven Gerrard into the middle but more than just that, they need a huge improvement in all parts of the team - starting at Middlesbrough on Saturday.

That is now a massive game and if they do not score and win at the Riverside it is right back to the drawing board for Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez - something England boss Steve McClaren will be doing this week.

I'm heading over to Amsterdam with Match of the Day for England's friendly against Holland and it is clear McClaren needs to take some positives out of the game after the defeat by Croatia.

Whether it be club or country, if you have had problems in your last match you are under pressure.

McClaren has to go back to basics, look at his players and decide a system - not the other way round.

Holland are a formidable side and it will be difficult but that in itself is a help.

The great thing about difficult football matches is that if you come through unscathed you get more kudos than if you were playing Andorra at home.

They will be playing under pressure and that gives both the manager and the players the chance to confound the critics - which in itself is a massive incentive.



SEE ALSO
Benitez shrugs off Gerrard debate
12 Nov 06 |  Premiership
Arsenal 3-0 Liverpool
12 Nov 06 |  Premiership
Blackburn 0-1 Man Utd
11 Nov 06 |  Premiership
Chelsea 4-0 Watford
11 Nov 06 |  Premiership


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