Manchester United are capable of finishing as high as second in the Premier League this season, if they can get a positive result from Sunday's blockbuster clash with bitter rivals Liverpool at Anfield.
That is according to first-team stars Michael Carrick and Chris Smalling, who believe that while fourth place and Champions League qualification is the minimum requirement it shouldn't be the ceiling on United's ambition heading into the business end of the campaign.
Optimism is clearly high at Old Trafford following last weekend's 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur, which is why Carrick is setting his sights high ahead of a run of testing fixtures which would prove pivotal in a topsy-turvy first season for United boss Louis van Gaal.
Carrick relishing Sunday's showdown
When asked by United's official website if the Red Devils are capable of overtaking both Arsenal and Manchester City before the end of the season Carrick responded: "Yeah, we have got to aim for that. We’re within touching distance now. You look at the table and it is so tight. But I suppose really we’ve just got to look to the game on Sunday [Liverpool].
"There are going to be ups and downs because that is how it is, especially in the last nine or 10 games. Sunday is a big game for a lot of reasons and that is probably all we can focus on at the moment."
Top four race is so tight
Despite widespread criticism of Van Gaal's style United sit fourth in the table, two points behind City in second and just a point off an Arsenal side with serious momentum.
Liverpool are a further two back in fifth, which makes Sunday's match on Merseyside so crucial. United also have games against both Chelsea and City on the horizon, which is exactly why Smalling feels the Red Devils are capable of climbing the table if they deliver in big matches.
It is all very close," Smalling admits. "There is only a point between us and Arsenal, and I think it's very open all the way up to second place, so we will be aiming for that, especially when we are playing those teams coming up.
"We want Champions League football back here at Old Trafford. It's a must. Fourth is the minimum but when it's there, second is a realistic target and if we keep on performing like we did against Tottenham then I don't see why we can't give it a good push."
Liverpool match is massive
There's no disguising how important the Liverpool match is this weekend for United, who simply cannot afford to lose going into a run of games which will decide if a return to Europe's top table is achievable.
Smalling and Carrick are right to claim second place is within reach given how congested the race behind Chelsea has become in recent weeks, but first things first a performance and result to match at Anfield has to be their primary focus.
Man United fans, do you think this side is capable of putting together a run of results that catapults the club to second? Are you confident of winning the race to finish in the top four? Let us know by having your say in the comment box below!
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