Liverpool set for Anfield showdown against United

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The Independent Online
Manchester United could have to conquer Anfield on 19 April to retain their Premiership crown after Liverpool wrested control of the title into their own hands.

Only a point behind after the wild drama of their last gasp deja vu 4- 3 triumph over Newcastle on Monday, they will be champions if they win all their remaining games.

"I'll settle for 4-3 from the next nine games - my heart can take it, just about," the Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, said. His fury at the loss of a 3-0 lead had the dressing-room walls vibrating.

"We have never been out of it. People keep saying teams are in and out of the race like a yo-yo but I still think there are five teams with a very good chance."

That includes Newcastle, who still have to go to Old Trafford, a game that will need rescheduling from 23 April if United reach the European Cup semi-finals.

Kenny Dalglish's side, shell-shocked after history repeated itself right down to the injurytime winner by Robbie Fowler, have to make up nine points from their last 10 games, a daunting challenge.

"When we got it back to 3-3 it was looking perfect for Manchester United, but instead victory was perfect for Liverpool and bad for us," the Newcastle manager insisted. "But it's not finished yet, is it? I didn't see anyone handing out the championship medals after the game, just as they didn't after the 4-3 here last year.

"It puts Liverpool in a better position than us but we still have to go to United - and anything can happen."

United, though unexpectedly vulnerable at Sunderland and with their focus now firmly on the European Cup after their scintillating victory over Porto, remain the bookies' favourites. That has as much to do with an undermining arrogance Liverpool have about their game as their occasional brilliance.

"When this side plays to its full potential, it probably has more flamboyance and more flair than any of the other Liverpool sides I have played in," John Barnes, their captain, said. "But that's not what's important. We need to play well in every game, not just for one in three. When United won it last year I felt we were the best side and when Blackburn won the League I felt United were the best. But the champions were more consistent and that's what counts.

"Occasionally we will win 5-0 and play beautiful football and that's great. But I would rather us play close to our potential and grind out results."

That is why Barnes rates the 1980s Liverpool side as the best of all time, a mean machine that never failed to kill off sides when it had them round the throat. Not so Evans' current side, who have so often demonstrated an attitude bordering on smugness and, in this deadly brave new world of the global Premiership, that can prove fatal.

It cost them the FA Cup tie at Chelsea and no fewer than 15 home points dropped this season. Fowler said: "I was delighted to get the winner because when it got to 3-3 I thought that was it. But it's vital that we start winning all our home games."

Evans was right to point out how stupid it would have been to have lost a match they totally controlled for more than 70 minutes, but it so nearly happened.

This was not the cut and thrust of last April's seven-goal thriller, the pragmatism of Dalglish replacing the cavalier instincts of Kevin Keegan to the disgust of Newcastle fans who had never seen such a spineless display from their side.

Chelsea's bravery earned their comeback at the Bridge but the Geordies only got back into it, Evans said, because Liverpool stopped doing the simple things and started getting flash.

"We started looking for the extra touch," he complained. But he insists his rage was short-lived: "I concentrated on the positive side - three points against Newcastle and some fantastic football. That's good enough for me in the end."

It was, after all, yet another match-of-the-season in this developing rivalry between two giant clubs, and for one man at least, it was a joy to be at the heart of all the rollercoaster emotion.

"It's the best game I have been involved in for many years," said the referee, David Elleray. "Fantastic, open football, a few mistakes and everything that English football is all about."

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