Carrick believes Man United can still win Premier League title
Michael Carrick insists Manchester United can win the Barclays Premier League this season.
Louis van Gaal's reign as United boss started poorly, but his team have turned a corner in recent weeks, winning five consecutive matches even though performances have been far from spectacular.
A sixth straight win against their biggest rivals Liverpool on Sunday would further consolidate their position in the Champions League qualification places, but Van Gaal wants more than just a top-four finish.
The 63-year-old, ever the perfectionist, admitted this week he "dreamed" of replacing Chelsea at the top of the table, and Carrick thinks that is possible.
"If we are in and around the top by Christmas or January then we are right in there with a chance," Carrick told United Review.
"(Last weekend) was a big weekend with Chelsea losing at Newcastle and other results going for us.
"I think with this squad that we have, which is gradually improving and building, anything can happen.
"It is all won and lost in the last two or three months of the season, so the aim is definitely to challenge.
"In seasons when we have been successful, there have been periods when things haven't gone for us but we've found a way to get through it. I just feel the same as before - if we are near the top of the table after Christmas then we have a great shout of achieving something with the squad we've got."
It has not gone unnoticed at Old Trafford that United's upturn in form has coincided with Carrick's return from an ankle injury he suffered in pre-season.
Since Carrick's first start of the campaign against Crystal Palace, United have not dropped a point and have conceded just three goals.
One senior figure at Old Trafford said the England midfielder had brought "a sense of calm" to the first team.
Should Carrick maintain his form and avoid injury, it seems likely United will exercise their right to extend the 33-year-old's contract by 12 months when it comes up for renewal next summer.
Van Gaal broke his golden rule of not singling out individuals for praise when Carrick's name was raised at his pre-match press conference on Friday.
The United manager said: "I think that's very important that he can play in midfield and in defence - especially in these times when we have a list of (injured) defenders, it was good that he came back. Because of him, we have more balance in the team."
After withdrawing the disappointing Paddy McNair in the 39th minute against Southampton, Carrick dropped into defence, but he is likely to start in his favoured midfield position on Sunday.
Jonny Evans returned from a 10-week layoff in the 2-1 win at St Mary's and looks set to start alongside Marcos Rojo against Liverpool.
Nine months ago David Moyes, unforgivably in the eyes of some United fans, said Liverpool were the favourites ahead of their trip to Old Trafford.
The Reds routed their old rivals 3-0 and two months later Moyes was sacked less than a year into his six-year contract.
This time it is the manager in the away dugout who is under pressure.
Liverpool came within a whisker of winning their first league title since 1990 last season, but this term they have struggled terribly, winning just six of their 15 matches, and exiting the Champions League.
Gary Neville claimed United and Liverpool have been so poor that Sunday's game could resemble a match between two pub teams, but Evans believes it would be wrong to under-estimate Rodgers' team this weekend.
"We are in a bit of form in terms of results and Liverpool are not but all form goes out of the window in these games and anything can happen," the United centre-back said.
"Luis Suarez has gone and maybe they aren't as strong, but they've still got some fantastic players who can still create magic on the pitch and that is something we will have to be careful of."