London: Under normal circumstances, any team fresh from a 4-0 win over Real Madrid would be considered favourite for their next match, but third-place Liverpool go into Saturdays Premier League showdown at Manchester United seven points behind the leaders.
Liverpool prepared for one of the most eagerly awaited fixtures of the season with an overpowering display against Madrid in the Champions League at Anfield on Tuesday, but their spluttering domestic form and an over-reliance on striker Fernando Torres and midfielder Steven Gerrard means United start as the clear favourites.
Uniteds prosaic progress to the quarter finals of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Inter Milan on Wednesday may work against Liverpool. Manager Alex Ferguson was incensed by the way senior players like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes squandered possession against the Italians, and Liverpool can expect a reaction at Old Trafford.
It was really reckless football and it allowed Inter Milan to get a grip of the game, Ferguson said. From the middle of the first half to the end of the first half they (Inter) were the better team.
Nemanja Vidic, scorer of Uniteds first goal, admitted the performance had been flawed. Were at home in front of our crowd and I hope we are going to be much better than we were against Inter, Vidic said. We will definitely try to improve, to erase the mistakes we made and play better against Liverpool.
Vidics partner in central defence, Rio Ferdinand, said he had been impressed by Liverpools win over Madrid and feels that even if United win on Saturday it would be premature to write off the teams challenge.
Theyve had a good week, getting a great result against Real Madrid, Ferdinand said. People say, If you win this game, you win the League, but it just continues until its mathematically over and one team win it, and hopefully that will be us. If we win, it will obviously make it hard for them but I couldnt care what happens to Liverpool as long as we beat them. If we do that and that leads to people thinking they're out of it, then so be it.
Liverpool have taken four points from their last three league games, but the team should at least provide United with a stiffer test than they did in the corresponding fixture last season, when the Reds slipped to a 3-0 loss after Javier Mascherano was sent off.
Torres and Gerrard have scored 17 league goals between them this season, while the rest of the squad has combined for just 25. Both should be fit, although Torres needed a painkilling injection to play against Madrid.
I feel good, the Spaniard said. My ankle felt a little painful in the second half against Real, but that doesnt matter for a match like this. We will work hard on the injury and train hard and I think I will be 100 percent for Saturday. It is a massive game that I hope to win because that will give us more chances in the league. We know its very important to win there, if not they will be many points ahead.