It was a throwaway remark but one that signalled a radical departure for Rafael Benítez. "We have enough quality in the squad to be there for a long time," he said of Liverpool's temporary return to the summit on Saturday night. Finally, if perhaps inadvertently, the truth has emerged from the reticent Spaniard and there appears little on the horizon at Anfield to contradict that view.
Unlike on his contractual situation the Liverpool manager had stayed silent on the long-term expectations for his team this term, with past experience and recognition of rival strength dousing title talk even after victories over Manchester United and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Defeat of a passive West Bromwich Albion, however, with Robbie Keane off the mark in the league for Liverpool, Fernando Torres off the bench and the late setback at Tottenham confirmed as a blip rather than the start of another bleak November, brought a shift in emphasis although, true to form, Benítez was not entirely satisfied.
"We can improve," said the manager, who wants a swift resolution and the offer of a new long-term deal when talks open with Tom Hicks and George Gillett this week. "I think [Steven] Gerrard's level will improve now that we have Torres available. It is clear that Stevie is a bit tired at the moment but with Torres he will have another player that can benefit from the accuracy of his passing. Gerrard can improve, Torres will improve with fitness and Fabio Aurelio, [Daniel] Agger and [Javier] Mascherano can all improve. We are in a very good position and we have enough quality in the squad to be there for a long time."
The core of Liverpool's first team holds the key to their durability this season but the fixture list also offers to strengthen Benítez's faith in his resources, with Bolton, Fulham, West Ham, Blackburn and Hull in line before the trip to the Emirates Stadium on December 21. Given the ease with which they recorded the 150th win of Benítez's reign in all competitions on Saturday, coupled with the timely return to form and fitness of their leading strikers, Liverpool appear perfectly equipped to maintain the consistency that United and Arsenal have still to discover.
Keane's first league goal for Liverpool, clipped effortlessly over Scott Carson after Gerrard had dissected a weak defence, injected renewed composure into the Republic of Ireland captain when it was sorely required. A second followed nine minutes later when he beat a fragile offside trap, rounded the over-ambitious run of Carson and converted with the precision of a striker unburdened. This was the first time Liverpool had established a two-goal lead at Anfield since beating Blackburn in April. Afterwards the Dubliner insisted there was never any concern about his barren spell. "I used to worry about things like that when I was younger but you tend not to when you get older," he claimed, although Benítez saw it differently.
"I spoke to Robbie this week as he has been under pressure to score and I wanted to reassure him because it has been difficult for him," he said. "I was using him and Stevie up front and he is a different type of player to Torres. Torres has the pace to run behind defenders and Keane has good movement. For Gerrard it was more difficult to find the pass to Robbie and more difficult for Robbie to find the run behind defenders but, with two strikers against West Brom, I knew it would make things easier for him. The only thing is you lose some of the balance of the team playing that way but we were better than them and you could see a massive difference in Keane as soon as he scored."
Benítez's managerial heart of stone, however, remains firmly intact and Anfield had to stifle its annoyance when he withdrew Keane with a hat-trick beckoning. The Spaniard's brilliant response was that he had given the £20.3m forward long enough. "I was waiting for him to get the hat-trick but then I decided to change it," said Benítez, who claimed there are still times when sentiment comes into his thinking - and with a straight face.
There are no such trivialities about Tony Mowbray's dilemmas. Albion were their customary neat and tidy selves but raw up front, naive at the back and ultimately outclassed all over the pitch. These are not the games that will determine survival, the manager rightly declared, having witnessed Alvaro Arbeloa curl a delightful third beyond Carson in stoppage time, but his team are crying out for a dogged presence nonetheless. "It is very difficult to find someone with a proven goalscoring record that a club like ours can afford," said Mowbray. "Mostly we need to go with young players with potential and it is a big test for them" - too big here.
Man of the match: Robbie Keane
The striker's unselfishness and work-rate have never been in doubt since his summer move from White Hart Lane but here he added the finishes of a £20.3m striker.
Best moment: The confident touch that made his second goal look deceptively simple.
Liverpool 3 – 0
(HT 2 – 0)
Bookings Arbeloa 67
Liverpool's Percentage West Brom's Percentage
Corners 3 30% 7 70%
Goal attempts 11 73% 4 27%
On target 10 83% 2 17%
Fouls 10 55% 8 45%
Offside 7 70% 3 30%
Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Fabio Aurelio, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Albert Riera (Ryan Babel, 65), Steven Gerrard (Xabi Alonso, 80), Javier Mascherano, Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt, Robbie Keane (Fernando Torres, 72)
West Brom Scott Carson, Ryan Donk, Gianni Zuiverloon, Jonas Olsson, Paul Robinson, Kim Do-Heon (Filipe Teixeira, 56), Jonathan Greening, Robert Koren, Iglesias Borja Valero, Ishmael Miller (Chris Brunt, 71), Roman Bednar (Luke Moore, 56)
Referee Walton, P
Pos Team Pld W D L Pts
1 Chelsea 12 9 2 1 29
2 Liverpool 12 9 2 1 29
3 Arsenal 12 7 2 3 23
4 Manchester United 11 6 3 2 21
5 Aston Villa 12 6 2 4 20
6 Hull City 12 6 2 4 20
7 Everton 12 5 3 4 18
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