MICHAEL Ballack dismissed Liverpool's title challenge yesterday and predicted a two-horse race between Chelsea and Manchester United.
Only goal difference separates Liverpool from Chelsea at the top of the table, but the Germany midfield player believes the Merseyside club is more suited to the UEFA Champions League because its squad lacks the depth to compete for the entire season.
Liverpool has won one Champions League and reached another final in four seasons under Rafael Benitez, but Ballack's views will not go down well at Anfield. Liverpool has been in the top two all season and became the first side to win a league match at Stamford Bridge in 4 1/2 years last month when it beat Chelsea 1-0.
"It's always the big four that everyone speaks about, but it's still about Chelsea and Man U," Ballack said. "Arsenal are already behind, which makes it very difficult for them. Liverpool are very good at this moment, but they are always a club for the Champions League, partly because they can put all their focus on one or two matches.
"But when you look at results and squads over the past couple of seasons, I think us and Man U are just a little bit stronger."
In yesterday's games, Roman Pavlyuchenko scored an early goal to give Tottenham a 1-0 win over 10-man Blackburn and lift Harry Redknapp's team out of the relegation zone.
Spurs outplayed Rovers for long spells at White Hart Lane, even before Blackburn lost left back Martin Olsson in the 39th after he received his second yellow card. The defender was also at fault for the goal. He tried to beat Aaron Lennon but lost possession, and the winger burst down the right flank and pulled the ball back to the unmarked Pavlyuchenko. The Russian striker beat former Tottenham goalkeeper Paul Robinson with a first-time shot.
Lennon repeatedly created openings for Spurs with his weaving runs, and Olsson was sent off for hauling the winger down.
"Aaron's a terrific player," Spurs coach Harry Redknapp said. "He's a threat, he carries the game to the opposition, he's got pace, he excites people and his confidence is sky high at the moment."
While Spurs climbed out of the last three spots, Blackburn slipped to second last. Wigan, which hosts Everton overnight, also dropped into the relegation zone.
In the other game, West Ham won 1-0 at Sunderland to end a run of seven games without a win and inflict a fourth home loss in a row on the Black Cats through a Valon Behrami goal.