Vol. 5 Num 568 Sat. December 31, 2005  

Liverpool looking for perfect 10

Liverpool will seek a 10th successive Premier League victory on Saturday when they conclude a memorable year at home to West Bromwich Albion.

Rafael Benitez's third-placed side are top of the form charts, although Chelsea's relentless defence of their league title shows no sign of wavering.

The champions will consolidate their 11-point lead with an 11th successive home win when they play second-from-bottom Birmingham City.

Second-placed Manchester United, who fell further adrift when they were held 2-2 by Birmingham on Wednesday, face a tough home test against local rivals Bolton Wanderers.

Liverpool's euphoric Cham-pions League victory over Milan in May was followed by a mediocre start to the domestic season, but Benitez now appears to have hit on a winning formula based on miserly defending and a potent attack.

But for Chelsea's consistency, Liverpool would be going into the new year confident of challenging for a 19th English title.

They are 15 points behind Chelsea with two games in hand and the signs are that they are emerging as genuine challengers to Jose Mourinho's side on the home front, having knocked them out of Europe last season.

"In terms of the football and the mentality of the squad I think we have much more confidence in ourselves," Benitez told the club's website after the 3-1 derby victory at Everton.

"The biggest difference for us this season is we know how to handle the physical games."

United manager Alex Ferguson has suffered a traumatic and trophy-less 2005 with an FA Cup final defeat, early elimination from Europe and the acrimonious exit of captain Roy Keane.

The Old Trafford club's best hope of silverware this season is in the domestic cups, although Ferguson will demand that they push Chelsea for as long as possible.

Like United, Arsenal have struggled to keep pace with Mourinho's side and are 20 points behind in sixth place.

However their first half display in the 4-0 defeat of Portsmouth on Wednesday suggests that Arsene Wenger's side are rediscovering their old self belief.

The Gunners face an early kickoff on Saturday at Aston Villa where victory would lift them, temporarily at least, to fourth.

"We will try to chase the pack in front of us with a result at Villa," Wenger told the club's website. "Overall the signs are very positive."

Arsenal's North-London rivals Tottenham hotspur face New-castle United at White Hart Lane where they will again be without defensive rock and skipper Ledley King who is ruled out with a groin injury.

In other New Year's Eve action Everton, who finished fourth last season, will try to stop a worrying slump in form when they take on bottom club Sunderland.