Jamie Carragher _300
JAMIE CARRAGHER believes Manchester United are now aware they face a real scrap with Liverpool for the Premier League title.
Rafael Benitez’s side continued their impressive recent form by thumping Champions League-chasing Aston Villa 5-0 at home on Sunday.
With leaders United having lost 2-0 at Fulham the previous day, the gap at the top has closed to a single point, although the Old Trafford side still have a game in hand.
Liverpool’s 4-1 humiliation of their bitter North West rivals the previous week breathed new life into the championship race.
And Carragher believes Sir Alex Ferguson and his players know the Anfield outfit will not give up on their title dream without a real fight.
“United will know now that we are in there,” said the Liverpool vice-captain. “If we’d have dropped points against Villa then their defeat at Fulham wouldn’t have made that much difference.
“But we’ve capitalised on it. Now United will realise they are in a fight for the league.
“They still have an advantage.
“One point with a game in hand is a decent lead at this stage of the season, and we’ve just got to stay on their coattails and hopefully overtake them.
“But we’ve shown in the last few seasons that we finish the season strongly, and we want the same again.
“We’ve got to Champions League finals, and that’s what we are aiming for again.”
Three years ago, Liverpool won the last nine games of the league season to finish with 82 points, their record total in the Premier League era.
A similar end to the campaign this time would
give Rafael Benitez’s side 88 points and put United under serious pressure.
But Carragher warned: “There’s a different pressure now in that we have to get three points from every league game we play, whereas in the past there hasn’t been that same pressure as this stage of the season.
“That’s why beating Villa was so important. It was a pressure game, a massive game, and that shows the development of the team.”
As against Madrid in their previous home game, Liverpool benefited from an explosive start on Sunday and were 3-0 ahead by half-time against a bewildered Villa.
Benitez’s men have struggled at times this season to overcome obdurate opposition at Anfield.
And right-back Alvaro Arbeloa reckons seizing the early initiative can prove decisive for the remainder of the campaign.
“We had a really good start to the game,” said the Spaniard. “I think that kind of first-half display is the key to improving our home form. If we can start really well at Anfield it can be important because an early goal can open up a tight match. You saw what it was like against Real Madrid in the Champions League and they could not cope with us, so I think we have to do the same in all of our home matches.
“We have to keep going and build on the momentum of the past week.”