24th December 2007
With Liverpool facing the damaging prospect of being cut adrift from the 'big three' in the title race, key defender Jamie Carragher has called for the side to keep their nerve.
The Merseysiders travel to bottom club Derby on Boxing Day knowing they dare not make any slip-ups against a side who seem to have found their fighting spirit following a brave 2-2 draw at Newcastle on Sunday.
Liverpool, emphatic winners over Portsmouth at the weekend, are no nearer closing the gap on Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea and are still behind Manchester City who they face at Eastlands on Sunday.
And with the backdrop of continued speculation about the club's ownership, finances, boss Rafael Benitez's own future as well as problems with the new ground, Liverpool could be facing a tough new year off the pitch.
But on it, Carragher insists there is still hope. He said: "It does not really matter who the leaders are, as long as we keep them in sight.
"At the moment it is Arsenal up there, so we just need to make sure that we keep hold of them for now. I am sure a time will come this season when they start to find it difficult, especially with all the young players they have in their side.
"There is no secret they are a great side, but I am sure they will be tested at some point. We just have to make sure we are there to capitalise when it happens.
"I am sure that Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea will keep winning, so it is up to us to prove we can stay with them. It would be really exciting if it is a four-horse race with 10 games to go."
Liverpool now play Derby, Manchester City and Wigan in a week, games they dare not lose.
Carragher continued: "Christmas is always a crucial time of the season. You can look at this period almost as a separate group of games in that sense.
"From these three games we would always say that seven points would be fine, but nine would be excellent. That would make a massive difference heading into the new year, hopefully we can them be a lot close to Arsenal by then."
The gap is currently 10 points with a game in hand - at home to West Ham - on the four clubs ahead of Liverpool in the table.
Benitez can be expected to shuffle his side for the trip to Derby ahead of the tough away trip to fourth-placed Manchester City next Sunday.
Benitez has already made 223 alterations to his sides this season, on a match to match basis, and used 77 substitutions, making it a remarkable 300 changes in player personnel in 28 matches so far.
And there will be more of the same at Pride Park, with Ryan Babel, Andriy Voronin, Fabio Aurelio and Lucas all potential starters. Youngster Jack Hobbs could also get another run-out in defence while Xabi Alonso could also continue his comeback from injury.
Benitez knows also that three good performances in the next week will go a long way to lifting the cloud still hanging over his own head.
But he will rotate, saying: "Sometimes you can use the same player, sometimes you use the squad. I like to use the squad because this is the key if you want to reduce the gap (to the teams at the top) --it is using the right players at the right moment.
"When you play four games in 12 days it is such a short time you can change players and they can understand. Sometimes when you play one game a week and you leave six players out of the squad it is more difficult to explain but this situation is easier.
"The team selection is always a problem if you have good players. Daniel Agger is close to fitness, Jermaine Pennant and Steve Finnan are improving so we are really close to having our full squad available."