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May 4, 2009

Rafa: United will make mistakes in the run-in

Rafael Benitez still expects Manchester United to slip up after Liverpool's gap-closing 3-0 win over Newcastle and hopes his rivals crumble under the pressure of four crucial games in 12 days.

Having seen his own team demolish Newcastle on Sunday to keep themselves in the hunt for the league crown, Benitez is more interested in seeing whether United can handle the mental pressures. He accepts that is something Sir Alex Ferguson's men have done well in the past, but not with Liverpool breathing down their necks before.

Benitez said: ''We have to see whether we can keep them under pressure, and then see whether they make mistakes.

''We are in a position that if we keep winning then we can see whether they make mistakes with us close behind. I believe that will happen, you cannot lose your belief.''

Liverpool cut United's lead to three points on Sunday with their seventh victory in an eight-match unbeaten league run which has seen them score 26 times. It is a run of defiance and belief that has probably surprised Manchester United.

Now, in contrast to United's hectic schedule, Liverpool have three games to finish their season comfortably spread over three weeks.

Benitez protected Fernando Torres' hamstring by resting him completely against Newcastle. And he is confident the Spaniard will be back to face West Ham on Saturday evening and then the final two games at West Brom on May 16 and at home to Tottenham on the final Sunday of the campaign.

He said: ''I don't think that Manchester United's Champions League semi-final this week will be a distraction for them. It might well have been when the first leg fell between two big league games, but they have time now to recover from the second European game with Arsenal.

''They have a big squad and good players to come in. They have time to prepare now. They may only be affected in the first game next Sunday after the European tie.

''That one is the derby with Manchester City. I would like to see them in trouble always of course, but I don't really think so this time.''

If Liverpool win at Upton Park on Saturday - where they lost 1-0 last season - they will return to the top on goal difference, with United facing Manchester City the following day.

United are away to Wigan, their game in hand, next Wednesday before entertaining Arsenal on May 16 and travelling to Hull on the final day.

Benitez said: ''They still have a big derby match to play, which is always difficult for them. They then have to play Arsenal at home, another game that is tough.

''But we cannot influence these games, we can only keep winning and hoping. Whatever happens between now and the end, this is likely to be our best Premier League season during my time at the club.

''Overall we have done well but there are things that could have been done better.'' He added: ''We have to be pleased with the position we are in. The progression and improvement of the squad has been very clear.

''The experience of challenging for the title will be very good for the future, but for now we must keep fighting. We have scored 68 league goals already this season, better than last season's total.

''It is natural that you score more goals with better players. We have created more chances and started to take them.''

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