It may be an exercise in straw-clutching after his team's capitulation at Crystal Palace but Lucas Leiva claims Liverpool have not given up hope of Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing reviving their old club's title chances against Manchester City. The West Ham United pair, Lucas admits, will be inundated with good luck messages from Merseyside ahead of the final games of the Premier League season on Sunday.
Manuel Pellegrini's team hold a two- point lead over Liverpool after capitalising on their rival's late collapse at Selhurst Park with a 4-0 defeat of Aston Villa on Wednesday. With a superior goal difference of 13 City effectively need to avoid defeat against West Ham at the Etihad Stadium to secure their second league title in three seasons. "We won't be playing for a draw, we will play to win,"insisted defender Pablo Zabaleta.
Liverpool must beat Newcastle United at Anfield and pray for a West Ham victory to clinch their first league championship for 24 years and 19th in total. And while Lucas admits that looks a remote prospect, with the Liverpool squad still coming to terms with the manner of Monday's 3-3 draw against Tony Pulis' team, he believes the strong Anfield connection in the West Ham ranks will have added motivation at the Etihad. Carroll and Downing were signed for a total of £55m by Liverpool in 2011 but neither featured in Brendan Rodgers' long-term plans when he arrived as manager the following year and were eventually sold to West Ham for a combined loss of £35m. Liverpool would be in their debt should West Ham, also captained by Liverpool-born and Liverpool-supporting Kevin Nolan, deliver one final twist in the most enthralling of title races.
"We will be in touch with them [Carroll and Downing] before Sunday, of course," the Liverpool midfielder said. "They have been here with us, they have worked with us and I'm sure they will do their best to get points for West Ham first of all and if they can help us too. But it's not in our hands any more. Against Crystal Palace we just switched off for eight or nine minutes and paid the price."
Lucas admits Palace's three late goals against a team pursuing the title demonstrated there are no foregone conclusions in the Premier League, although the impact could be lasting at Liverpool. "It just shows you how difficult this league is," he said. "It doesn't matter where you play or against which team you play, you have to make sure the 90 minutes is full of concentration but [Palace] is something that is hard to explain why it happened.
"I think you can still see it on the faces of the players. The dressing room after the game was very quiet, probably the quietest I have ever experienced since I came here but it's not the end of the season as we still have Newcastle to play. It is quite hard for City to drop points but we still have to believe. We know it is not in our hands anymore but overall I think it has been a fantastic season for us. Probably people wouldn't expect us to achieve what we achieved and the way we achieved it but now we move on and see what will happen."
Zabaleta was instrumental in the defeat of Villa and believes the experience of the last-gasp title win against Queens Park Rangers in 2012 will be important against Sam Allardyce's team. "We are 90 minutes away but we cannot relax," said the Argentina defender. "Every single player knows we have done nothing yet. Most have been here for more than two years so we have experience of the QPR game where everything was decided in the last minute. We don't want that again, so we need to have a good rest because Sunday will be another tough game."