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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Carragher: It's now a two horse title race

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has joined Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson in writing off Chelsea's hopes of challenging for the Premier League title this season.

Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked as boss of the west London club last week after a poor run of form which has seen them slip to fourth in the table. And despite Guus Hiddink coming in as interim manager until the end of the season Carragher cannot see them recovering.

On Wednesday, Sir Alex also stated his belief that the title race "is going to be between ourselves and Liverpool".

Liverpool are now five points behind United after they comfortably won their game in hand against Fulham on Wednesday night, but Carragher still thinks his team will battle all the way with the current Premier League, European and World Champions.

"Just overtaking Chelsea and Arsenal in the challenge is an achievement in itself already so everyone should be proud of that,'' he told the club's official website.

"We finished fourth last season, but we have overtaken Chelsea and Arsenal and even though everyone at the club understands that it's not over yet by a long way, at the moment it looks like it is going to be us and Manchester United for the title.

"A lot of people said at the start of the season that we needed to be in the title race at the end and at least be in with a fighting chance.

"Now hopefully we can go one step further and win this title. There are still a lot of games to go, so it's important everyone at the club remains calm.''

Dirk Kuyt, meanwhile, has warned Manchester United they cannot afford to slip up.

The Dutchman said: "We have players who are just reaching their peak, Steven Gerrard just seems to get better every season and maybe he hasn't even reached his peak yet.

"He scores loads of goals and everyone can see how important he is. It's the same with Fernando Torres and a few others.

"We have a lot of young, talented players who have now been at the club a long time. I think this is the best team I have played with at Liverpool.''

But Liverpool expect the pressure to really be on by the time Mark Hughes' side arrive at Anfield on Sunday, when anything but a victory could leave Liverpool trailing in Manchester United's wake.

And Kuyt recalls the dramatic meeting with City at Eastlands earlier in the season when he scored a last-minute winner, one of a host of late comebacks which ensured Liverpool are now the only serious challengers to United for the title.

Liverpool also won in the last seconds at Portsmouth last time out, and Kuyt puts this new-found ability to turn games around in the final minutes down to a familiarity and spirit in the dressing room.

He explained: "It was a crazy game at City and a really important one. We were 2-0 down at half-time but saw a completely different Liverpool side in the second half.

"The comebacks have been possible because the team has been together for longer. All the players know each other better, and I also think there are a lot of players here who are getting better each year.''

Liverpool go into this weekend's game on the back of a two-week break from competitive action. Boss Rafael Benitez allowed his players a few days off following last week's internationals - something Kuyt believes will be of benefit as the season progresses.

He said: "The manager gave us a few days off so I went back to Holland to see family and friends. The whole family went and enjoyed it.

"Hopefully it will be my last opportunity to go back this season, because that would mean we are doing really well. We're all ready for the rest of the season now.''

With Gerrard still a doubt for the City clash, and Robbie Keane gone, Ryan Babel is likely to find himself involved on Sunday despite a season of erratic form.

But Liverpool's other Dutchman reckons he is learning fast, and says: "With Robbie having left that has increased my chances a little more.

"I feel that I am ready for more playing time so hopefully that will come.

"I have spoken with the manager and he has told me what my role can be in the future. If necessary, I will play as a winger, but I have made no secret of my desire to play as a striker at Liverpool.''

And he is looking to learn from Torres as he endeavours to improve.

He added: "I have to be realistic. I know Fernando is the number one striker, there is no doubt about that. But there are a lot of games and I want to prove that I can be a striker, too.

"Fernando has wonderful movement and that is what makes him the player he is. It is definitely an area where I can get better, so I look at him in training.

"My shooting with my left foot could be better, too, and Fernando is good with both feet so I have been watching how he positions his body to strike the ball.

"I have to keep telling myself that I am only 22. it is easy to forget that. It is good for me that I have been playing more as a striker because that is where I feel most comfortable.''

Liverpool's title bid could be further boosted by the sooner-than-expected return of skipper Gerrard with manager Rafael Benitez opening the door for a potential return as a sub against Manchester City on Sunday.

"Maybe he could be on the bench against City but we don't know. He wants to play every single game. He knows the game against City will be very important, and also the Real Madrid one too,'' said Benitez.

The club have also asked UEFA to bring forward the date of their potential Champions League quarter-final second leg to avoid a clash with the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

"We wrote to UEFA last year, pointing out the significance of April 15 if we do get to the quarter-final, especially as it is the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster,'' a Liverpool spokesman said.

"We have asked not to play on that date and that April 14 should be considered instead.''

A UEFA spokesman said: "We have received a request and we will try our best to accommodate it, but we cannot guarantee at this stage that we will be able to.''

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