liverpool fading

LONDON - Manchester United have ruthlessly removed Liverpool from the top spot in the Premier League and defeat for the Anfield club by Chelsea at home on Sunday would leave them contemplating another season as also-rans.

LONDON - Manchester United have ruthlessly removed Liverpool from the top spot in the Premier League and defeat for the Anfield club by Chelsea at home on Sunday would leave them contemplating another season as also-rans.

Rafael Benitez's side are leaking points to such an extent they could find themselves five points adrift of the defending champions come kickoff against Chelsea, who now look the chief threat to United.

Fourth-placed Aston Villa won a sixth consecutive away league match on Tuesday at Portsmouth and even they are looking a better bet for a title push than misfiring Liverpool.

United face sixth-placed Everton tomorrow on the back of a top flight record of 11 consecutive clean sheets, and with players leaving the treatment room in droves Alex Ferguson's side look perfectly positioned for a sprint towards an 18th English title.

It is a galling sight for the increasingly grumpy Benitez, who was being lauded as a tactical wizard when Liverpool snapped Chelsea's 86-match unbeaten home league record in October with a 1-0 win to forge three points clear at the top.

The optimism that resulted nurtured has long since evaporated and dark clouds are looming over the Spanish coach. Benitez is also coming under increasing criticism from the home faithful for continually leaving striker Robbie Keane on the bench.

Chelsea look to have turned the corner after their own rocky spell and moved above Liverpool on Wednesday with a routine 2-0 win at home to Middlesbrough. - Reuters

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