Manchester United will be the ones on red alert when Liverpool visit Old Trafford on Sunday for a Premier League match neither side can afford to lose. United were thumped 4-1 by Liverpool at home last March and still went on to win the championship but the stakes are higher than ever now.
The league leaders are just two points clear of Chelsea, who have a game in hand and no Champions League to distract them after being dumped out by Inter Milan, and Arsenal as the season enters the final stages.
Liverpool are out of the title picture but Rafa Benitez’s side are making an all out push for fourth and a possible Champions League place and need every point they can get. They showed their mettle at Anfield on Monday with a resounding 4-1 win against almost-relegated Portsmouth, before turning their attentions to Lille in the Europa League tonight.
Liverpool beat United twice last season and will be chasing another double on Sunday after a 2-0 home win in October. “It would be very dangerous to think this is a poor Liverpool side coming to Old Trafford because they will be anything but,” warned midfielder Darren Fletcher this week.
“It would be a huge mistake to think that Liverpool are not a threat. They maybe haven’t had the season we expected after the one they had last year but they are still a dangerous side, they are still the same team they were last year in the main,” added the Scot.
“We know what they are capable of because they pushed us all the way and dished out that defeat here and the one at Anfield this season. They are still fresh in our memories. We have to learn the lessons from last year’s game. The warnings are there. If you are not 100 percent focused and you make mistakes then Liverpool will punish you.”
United will hope England striker Wayne Rooney is the one doing most of the punishing after some sensational recent form. He scored twice against Fulham at Old Trafford last Sunday to take his season’s tally to 32 and is on course to surpass the 42 scored by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007/2008.
Winning the Premier League will not only mean United go ahead of Liverpool and stand alone with 19 titles – but they will become the first English club to win four titles in a row. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson is well aware of what’s at stake saying that “It would be a fantastic achievement. The opportunity is there for us and we all know it, I have set us a title target – Win every game between now and the end of the season! Obviously it’s a big ask, but that’s what we must aim for”
The Old Trafford chief has drummed into his side the fact that there can be no slip ups if they are to do that. It means the 3-1 defeat at Everton last month has to be the last. That was United’s sixth in the league this season, but since then they have played three league games, the Carling Cup final and one in Europe – winning all of them scoring 13 and conceding just the one goal.
Can United afford to drop any points whatsoever if they are to clinch the title?