MANCHESTER - Rafael Benitez has challenged his Liverpool squad to test Manchester United's nerve by winning all nine of their remaining matches in the Premier League.
Despite Liverpool's stunning 4-1 win at Old Trafford on Saturday, United remain masters of their own destiny with a four-pont lead and a game in hand providing a substantial margin for error over the next two months.
Benitez describes himself as "optimistic but realistic" about the chances of United stumbling before the finish line, but a nine-match winning streak down the final stretch does not look beyond his side after what was an unforgettable week for Liverpool fans.
Four days after dishing out a 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid, the Reds came from behind to complete their biggest win at United since 1936.
"We have played better this season but not against a team of United's quality," the Spaniard said. "To beat Real and United, two of the biggest teams in Europe, in the same week and score four goals against them is fantastic.
"But the best weeks in football are when you win titles. To win games is part of the battle but to win the war, that is the most important thing."
Having masterminded home and away wins over United and not lost to either Arsenal or Chelsea this season, Benitez can convincingly argue that Liverpool are making progress towards the club's holy grail of winning a first English title since 1990.
But he recognises it is an objective that may have to wait for next season.
"It depends on United," he said. "They have to lose games and realistically we have to win all ours."
United's fixtures against Aston Villa, Manchester City and Arsenal are the ones which Benitez will regard as most likely to result in United dropping points, though the fact that they are all at Old Trafford is in the champions' favour, as is the fact that Liverpool still have to entertain both Villa and Arsenal.
Benitez must also hope that his talismen, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, remain free of the injuries that have plagued them so far this season.
United opened the scoring through a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty, but Liverpool hit back with goals from Torres, Gerrard, Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena.