Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez all but conceded the Barclays Premier League title to Manchester United after seeing his side slip up in a 2-0 defeat at Middlesbrough.
The Reds' unbeaten 15-game league run came to an abrupt end at the Riverside Stadium as Xabi Alonso's own goal and Tuncay Sanli's 63rd-minute strike saw Boro clinch all three points and left United seven points better off than the men from Anfield, who have played a game more.
Asked if the title race was over, Benitez, whose side have slipped into third place behind Chelsea on goal difference, said: "Before the game, it was very difficult - after the game, it is more difficult."
He added: "It depends on United. It will be more difficult, clearly."
Benitez, whose team beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu Stadium on Wednesday evening, said: "I don't want to say too much, but for me, it is very clear. In the first 30 minutes, we had five chances and you have to take your chances.
"After the own goal, we still had chances. If you want to win, you have to score."
The Spaniard denied that the club's off-field problems - his contract remains unsigned, while it has been announced that chief executive Rick Parry will leave Anfield at the end of the season - were a factor, but also revealed that his own situation could progress soon.
He said: "My advisers are in contact with the advisers of the owners, so maybe they will have a conversation and we will see if we can progress."
The win lifted Boro out of the bottom three, but perhaps more importantly, increased belief that they can survive in the top flight.
Boss Gareth Southgate said: "I am pleased for the players because they have had to endure a long period of frustration. But their work ethic and their togetherness over the last seven or eight weeks in particular has been excellent and we have got to continue that now."
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