Referees must make right calls says Michael Carrick

Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick has urged officials to get the big decisions right in important matches.

As the Red Devils now prepare for Sunday's visit to bitter rivals Liverpool, a fresh examination of their Premier League credentials is emerging.

And with Arsenal breathing down their necks, Sir Alex Ferguson's team can ill afford any more slip-ups.

Ferguson heaped the responsibility for United's 2-1 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last night onto the shoulders of referee Martin Atkinson.

Carrick backed up his boss and said: "Some decisions didn't go our way and we're on the end of a defeat, which is very hard to take.

"You have to get big decisions right in games of that importance."

The criticism of Atkinson over his failure to send David Luiz off for tripping Wayne Rooney immediately before awarding Chelsea their match-winning penalty for a debatable Chris Smalling foul on Yuri Zhirkov drew a stinging rebuke from Ferguson.

Although the United boss might have kept his counsel and reflected on the changing fortunes of a game that should have left him playing with just 10 men at Wigan three days earlier, Ferguson opted to let fly with both barrels.

"You want a fair referee, or a strong referee anyway - and we didn't get that," he said.

"I must say, when I saw who the referee was I feared it. I feared the worst."

Given the United boss already has the remaining two matches of a four-game touchline ban hanging over him following scathing comments about Alan Wiley's fitness last season, a further spell in the stands appears inevitable if misconduct is proved.

The FA have until 6pm tomorrow to charge Ferguson, although that may just fuel a sense of injustice at Old Trafford ahead of what is now a vital trip to Liverpool on Sunday when far more than local pride will be at stake.

United - four points in front of Arsenal having played a game more and a trip to the Emirates still to come - cannot afford to drop points.

Liverpool, improving under Kenny Dalglish until their shock defeat at West Ham, are suddenly seeing the avenues to next season's Europa League being blocked off let alone a Champions League place. It makes for a fascinating duel.

"We feel pretty down but we can move on quickly. We have to," said Carrick.

"We're used to doing it and normally we are good at it. That is the nature of the beast.

"We move on and we take a lot of positives from tonight and look to put things right that didn't go well.

"Sunday is obviously a huge game and we'll be ready for it. We have to be."

United will be missing key players.

Rio Ferdinand's absence with a calf injury is about to extend into a second month, while his normal central defensive partner Nemanja Vidic is suspended.

That means a rare start in the middle for Wes Brown, whose appearances have been limited this term.

One of the obvious reasons for that is the form of Smalling, who despite conceding Chelsea's penalty, produced another mature display at Stamford Bridge.

Sunday promises to be his toughest test though, given both the magnitude and importance of the occasion, plus the fact he has not played alongside Brown before.

Indeed, Brown's last Premier League outing in the centre came against West Ham in February last year.

Little wonder Dalglish is giving serious consideration to handing Andy Carroll an eagerly-awaited debut at a time when Ferguson's options are severely limited through injury.

At least United do have options in attack, with Rooney finally hitting goalscoring form, his latest effort taking his tally for the season to eight and his current run to five in five games.

"It was a super finish," said Carrick of Rooney's 20-yard thunderbolt.

"He got it out from under his feet. It was great to see it go in."