Premier League reflections

Liverpool, who host Middlesbrough on Saturday, have been English champions a record 18 times, but they have struggled to mount a serious challenge since Rafa Benitez arrived at Anfield.

Defender Jamie Carragher is convinced the financial power of Manchester United and Chelsea has made it far harder for Benitez's team to finish top than it was for the club's successful sides of the 1970s and 1980s.

"I'm not saying bad Liverpool teams ever won the league - of course they didn't. But maybe a few years ago you could afford to carry a few players," he said. "I don't think that's possible now. Every position has got to be filled by a top player if you want to win things on a consistent basis."

Arsenal winger Theo Walcott is determined to repay boss Arsene Wenger for his faith in the club's young guns, starting at Fulham this weekend. Walcott is impressed that Wenger has opted to ignore big-name signings in favour of developing the gifted starlets emerging from Arsenal's youth and reserve teams.

"The fact that the manager hasn't bought in loads of new players shows he has faith in the squad - it hasn't changed much at all from last season," Walcott said. "The year before last we finished with 68 points and last year we got 83, which represents a big step up. We can all learn from the mistakes we made last year and hopefully go one step better this time."

Luiz Felipe Scolari will be hoping Nicolas Anelka continues to respond to his attempts to fire up the France striker as Chelsea travel to Wigan on Sunday. Although Chelsea dazzled against Portsmouth last weekend, Didier Drogba is sidelined for another month as he recovers from knee surgery and Scolari needs Anelka to build on last weekend's performance.

Anelka's goal against Pompey was only his second for the club, and Scolari has made the erratic star his pet project since arriving in July. "We need to put fire in Anelka - tell him 'look Anelka, you are very good'. Maybe this will be the season for Anelka," Scolari said recently. "I need to work more on his head, on his thinking in the field, because he has good quality."

Making amends
Manchester United face Portsmouth on Monday as the European champions bid to make amends for last weekend's surprise draw against Newcastle. United defender Nemanja Vidic will make his 101st appearance for Sir Alex Ferguson's side at Fratton Park, a milestone he thought he would never reach after a disastrous debut alongside Patrice Evra in the Manchester derby two years ago.

"We speak about it quite often. Neither of us started well and we used to say we wanted to leave," Vidic said. "We can laugh about it now because we have both reached 100 games."

Tottenham manager Juande Ramos has challenged unsettled striker Dimitar Berbatov to silence the boo-boys by scoring against Sunderland. Berbatov has handed in a transfer request as he tries to force a move to Manchester United and the Bulgarian is likely to receive a hostile reception in his first appearance at White Hart Lane since the saga began.

"Tottenham fans are no exception to any others - they support the team and get behind the side," Ramos said. "If a player is on form, if he knocks in a couple of goals then I'm sure anyone who booed him last week will soon be getting behind him and cheering him."

Sunderland duo Steed Malbranque and Pascal Chimbonda will feature against their former club, but Teemu Tainio, who also left White Hart Lane to join the Black Cats in pre-season, looks likely to miss out with a muscle strain.