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Page last updated at 18:08 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Who can step up to topple Liverpool?

Jonathan Pearce
By Jonathan Pearce
BBC football commentator

Premier League vultures should be circling above the Stade Gerland in Lyon where Liverpool try to salvage their season on Wednesday.

Jamie Carragher
Carragher has seen his team beaten by Sunderland and Fulham recently

It may seem heartless but Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur need to keep a predatory eye on the Champions League tie.

If Liverpool are standing on the brink, if Rafa Benitez is one defeat away from the bullet, any club with genuine ambitions to destroy the big four cartel must swoop in for the kill now.

They've all talked the talk now it's time to walk the walk of a club capable of pulling away from Liverpool in the table over coming weeks.

Right now the Anfield club is in the gutter but it won't stay there.

The injuries to Gerrard, Torres and too many others have been critical but when the Kop first team is fully fit, it is one of the very few sides capable of going on a 10-game winning streak.

If the contenders don't leave them reeling on the ropes now, they could be KO'd by a late-season Liverpool counter-punch.

For sure Liverpool, stricken by their worst run in over 50 years, have it all to do to make the last four again but they've shown time and time again their powers of recovery.

The others will hit previously unknown pressures in the run-in unless they've opened up a big enough gap.

On average over the last 10 years the fourth-placed Premier League club has accrued 67 points.

Manchester City are best placed to hit that target. Having picked up 1.9 points a game so far, they need to average 1.71 from here on in.

They're capable of scoring goals for fun and the defence is much improved but the club is an expensive piece of work in progress.

The inability to win their last three games against modest opposition following the draw at Villa when they were outplayed for periods raises serious questions.

Do enough City players have the cold-eyed killer's lust for victory at all cost? Trips to Liverpool and Tottenham and the home game with Chelsea to come over the next few weeks could give them a sobering reality check.

A genuine top four side would target six points from those matches. City can be the success story of the season or its biggest flop.

If Villa maintain their fine start they could easily hit the 67-point mark.

Wins over Chelsea and Liverpool show they can now beat the big boys on their day but defeats against Wigan and Blackburn are reminders of what happens to Martin O'Neill's players when they're a fraction below their best.

The arrival of Collins, Dunne and Warnock has thickened the squad but if Agbonlahor and Ashley Young get injured at the same time, the side will lack pace.

Their next four league games against Bolton, Burnley, Tottenham and Hull must be won but again I can see them running out of steam.

The biggest disappointment at the moment lies at White Hart Lane.

Today I look at Tottenham and ask who the real legends are in this side?

Emotionally-scarred Tottenham fans will look at this week's Champions League action fearing the competition will never feature their side.

Asked in a Radio 5 live interview ahead of the home game against Stoke whether Spurs could break into the top four this season, I boldly predicted they could make the top three!

This was based on Liverpool's descent into the trough of mediocrity and a never-ending doubt over Arsenal's defensive durability. I honestly believed this was Spurs' year but that confidence has been shot away.

They had bundles of chances against Stoke who defended with their lives but Tottenham showed a disconcerting lack of creativity and method in a clueless last half hour and teams with greater guile would have found a way through. Then against Arsenal, Spurs were outplayed.

In just over a year in charge Harry Redknapp has conjured up top-five form from a side that was bottom and bedraggled when he took over.

There is no question the squad has quality. Sebastien Bassong was an excellent summer signing and Peter Crouch will always be a better strike partner for Jermain Defoe or Robbie Keane than Darren Bent, although I feel his Spurs' scoring record was wrongly maligned.

Blue and white army

Harry has spent well. But that spending means that a total of £160m has been shelled out on the squad. Tangible results are now needed to satisfy chairman Daniel Levy, who has always backed his managers in the transfer market.

Redknapp has reacted angrily to questions about the back-to-back Premier League defeats.

Of course he's right to defend the progress the club has made under him and to counter any doubts that the club is on the right track. Two defeats can't wreck a season but he should be honest enough to admit things haven't been right of late.

Harry's greatest strength is that he knows a good footballer when he sees one and he's quick to identify faults.

He will know that keeper Heurelho Gomes is too unpredictable, that Ledley King tragically can no longer be relied upon, that Jonathan Woodgate is also too injury-jinxed, that Tom Huddlestone is sometimes prone to slowing the game down to his pace, that the wonderfully competitive Wilson Palacios doesn't pass the ball as well as he should, that the thrilling pace of Aaron Lennon is often misguided and that both David Bentley and Roman Pavlyuchenko have been expensive misfits.

Harry recently announced that he loves working with class players on the training ground. If they don't beat much improved Sunderland and Wigan at home, I suspect the following away games at Villa and Everton will prove that he needs to purchase more quality in January.

I still hope Tottenham fulfil my prediction. Many of my closest friends have followed the club for the last four decades with too few fleeting memories of glory, glory days. It's time for the suffering to end - it's gone on too long.

Joe Jordan, Kevin Bond, Harry Redknapp
Redknapp (right) and his assistants have been frustrated by recent results

A week before my 11th birthday, 16 December 1970 I was at Ashton Gate for Bristol City's biggest night in 50 years.

It was the visit of "mighty" Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup semi-final first leg. City manager Alan Dicks told all the kids who were connected with the club to stand in the tunnel to study the visiting legends as they walked out on to the pitch.

There was the shovel-handed Pat Jennings, the under-rated Cyril Knowles, huge Mike England and World Cup winner Martin Peters alongside Alan Mullery who was later to become a good friend.

Steve Perryman was the up-and-coming kid, Alan Gilzean was a god and he scored in a 1-1 draw.

Tottenham went on to win the cup and it was a team of football giants straight out of the pages of my Soccer Stars album.

But since then five trophies in 38 years is a poor return. False dawns have been blown away. The storm clouds aren't exactly gathering at the moment, but the future does seem cloudier than it did a month ago.

Today I look at Tottenham and ask who the real legends are in this side? How much does each and every one of them really want prolonged, meaningful success for the club over the next decade?

The same question can be asked of all the contenders for a place in the elite top four.

It's time to stand up and be counted. Otherwise Liverpool, reeling and punch drunk, could yet stagger off the canvas and, "rope-a-dope" - Ali-style, confound them all.

They won't get a better chance than this year.

Jonathan Pearce will be at White Hart Lane on Saturday, commentating for BBC Match of the Day on Tottenham's game with Sunderland.

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see also
Hamann urges Reds to back Benitez
02 Nov 09 |  Liverpool
Benitez defends Torres withdrawal
31 Oct 09 |  Liverpool
Hodgson refuses to write off Reds
01 Nov 09 |  Fulham
Fulham 3-1 Liverpool
31 Oct 09 |  Premier League
'Suicidal' Spurs appal Redknapp
31 Oct 09 |  Football
Arsenal 3-0 Tottenham
31 Oct 09 |  Premier League
Will Benni save SA?
23 Oct 09 |  Internationals
Stepping out of the shadows
20 Oct 09 |  Internationals
Foster's testing future
06 Oct 09 |  Man Utd
Last fan standing
02 Oct 09 |  Everton

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