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Liverpool-Manchester United Preview

By CHRIS ALTRUDA

STATS Editor

(AP) -- It's hard to hide as a second-place team riding a hot streak, yet Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool have done just that while emerging as a contender for the Premier League title.

It may finally be time for the Reds to embrace their place among the league's elite as they face a crunch match Sunday at Old Trafford versus reigning titleholders Manchester United.

Despite claiming 23 of a possible 27 points in their last nine league matches (7-2-0), Rodgers has taken pains to repeatedly hammer home the point his team is simply trying to "consolidate our place in the top four" -- a statement made ahead of a 4-3 win over Swansea on Feb. 22. Even as the Reds have climbed the table, the manager has offered scant thoughts on his team's chances for a first title since they won the First Division in 1990.

Liverpool (18-5-5) are seven points behind Chelsea and have a match in hand with 10 remaining - as well as being six points clear of fifth-place Tottenham with a match in hand - but following a 3-0 thrashing of Southampton at St Mary's on March 1 heading into the international break, Rodgers again refused to be drawn into talking up his team's hopes.

"We'll just stay calm with 10 games to go. We're in a good position and want to continue to work on the level we're at," the third-year manager said. I'm not focusing on that (the standings), we're focusing on winning the next game.

"It's for the supporters to dream and I think they're enjoying watching their team," he added.

Rodgers will get reinforcements for the run-in as midfielder Lucas Leiva is expected to be available for selection after missing nearly two months with a knee injury. The Brazilian, whose last league action came Jan. 18, played the full 90 minutes with Liverpool's U-21 squad on March 7 and also has hopes of playing with his national team as World Cup hosts this summer.

"It's going to be massive for me, but as I said, what I do for Liverpool is what's going to get me in the Brazil squad, so I've just got to concentrate on the next 10 games and hopefully help Liverpool to do good things until the end of the season," Leiva told the team's official website.

While Rodgers and Liverpool will be an integral part of "squeaky bum time" as former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson once said, his successor David Moyes has been relegated to little more than spoiler in his first season at Old Trafford.

United (14-6-8) are a distant sixth in the table with 48 points, nine points behind archrivals Manchester City for the final Champions League slot, but have some momentum after taking seven points from a three-match road stretch in which they did not concede a goal to Arsenal, Crystal Palace and West Brom.

But this run of home matches offers a higher calibre of opponent. After Sunday's match, United must overturn a two-goal deficit in their second-leg round of 16 Champions League tie versus Greek side Olympiacos midweek before the Manchester derby versus City on March 22.

"In recent times, with this rivalry, we've been on top of them in the league and it's the other way around at the moment," midfielder Michael Carrick told United's official website. "That Olympiacos game was a bit of a shock to everyone and afterwards we just wanted to get back to where we were.

"I thought we did that against West Brom, so we need to build on that now."

Liverpool won the reverse fixture at Anfield in September, riding Sturridge's goal in the fourth minute to a 1-0 win. United gained a measure of revenge later that month by ousting the Reds from the League Cup with a 1-0 victory. The Reds have not achieved the double over United since the 2008-09 season.

Updated March 13, 2014

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