Neville stirs up north-west rivalry

Gary Neville knows the Barclays Premier League champions will come from the top four as usual - but the Manchester United skipper hopes it is not Liverpool.

It is 1995 since anyone except United, Chelsea or Arsenal last won the title - Blackburn pipped United - and you have to go back another five years for the last of Liverpool's 18 successes, when Kenny Dalglish was still manager.

Since then, United have finished top on 10 occasions, reversing the old order under Sir Alex Ferguson and moving to within a single championship of Liverpool's record mark.

But hope is growing in the red half of Merseyside the run will be brought to an end in May.

With Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard spearheading the Anfield challenge, Rafael Benitez's side are in the slip-stream of early-season pacesetters Chelsea.

But Neville addressed the prospect of a Liverpool title win in typically forthright manner.

"I hope not," said the England defender.

"But we don't know do we? They have started well and had some good results. They beat us, which was disappointing for us, but will obviously give them confidence.

"It will be Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and ourselves. We know the champions will be one of those four. It is a case of who puts the most consistent run together."

United are currently six points adrift in mid-table.

However, such statistics do not take into account their game in hand against Fulham, postponed at the end of August due to the European Super Cup encounter with Zenit St Petersburg.

In addition, United have also been to Liverpool and Chelsea, gaining a creditable draw at Stamford Bridge after being beaten at Anfield.

Neville is not too concerned. In fact, the two points he feels have to be made up were lost against Newcastle at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season.

"We will be three points behind if we win our game in hand, so we are still in contention," he said.

"We are probably not quite where we would like to be. But the most disappointing result was Newcastle at home.

"You can always lose to Liverpool away in the league even if you never accept it and it is always disappointing.

"We are two points behind because of that result against Newcastle.

"But it is a long season and we still have time to make it up."

Although he played against Chelsea, Neville missed the wins over Aalborg and Middlesbrough with a groin injury.

Young Brazilian Rafael Da Silva came in and did an excellent job in the Champions League tie before Wes Brown returned and helped keep a clean sheet against Boro, emphasising the strength of Ferguson's squad.

So, although they have a dozen players on international duty this week, United have the likes of Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick fresh, plus Neville if he is fit, for Saturday evening's clash with West Brom.

"The squad is strong in terms of depth," said Neville. "But as we have seen, we need the numbers.

"Over the last couple of years the manager has built up a young, strong squad. It has a little bit of experience as well, so we are really happy with it."