Manchester City face a stern test of their Premier League title credentials this weekend when the newly installed leaders host Chelsea.
City’s midweek win at Everton lifted them above Liverpool on goal difference and increased the pressure on Jurgen Klopp’s spluttering side.
After two successive damaging draws, Liverpool now have no margin for error when they take on Bournemouth at Anfield.
City ready for Chelsea ‘final’
Pep Guardiola has challenged Manchester City to prove they are capable of holding off Liverpool by beating Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Having knocked Liverpool off the top despite trailing by seven points just weeks ago, City have edged in front, albeit having played a game extra.
But, with Liverpool playing 24 hours earlier, Guardiola knows City must keep their foot on the gas against fourth-placed Chelsea.
“Now comes a big test, a big goal. Chelsea are an exceptional team who have had seven days to prepare,” Guardiola said.
“It really is a final for us this weekend. If we are able to take these points, it is a huge step forward.”
While Chelsea had been in turmoil until last weekend’s rout of Huddersfield, Maurizio Sarri’s team did inflict City’s first league defeat since April with a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in December.
Robertson expects Liverpool to end slump
When Liverpool took the lead just minutes into their clash against Leicester last week, the Kop broke into songs of praise for their former manager Rafael Benitez.
Jubilant that Benitez had masterminded Newcastle’s win over Manchester City the previous evening, Liverpool fans were anticipating another victory on the road to their first English title since 1990.
But out of nowhere, the joyous celebrations were muted by a sudden outbreak of nervous tension as Leicester hit back to earn a point — an anti-climactic result that was followed by another uninspired Liverpool display in Monday’s draw at West Ham.
However, Reds defender Andrew Robertson says the frustrating period is just a “blip” that can be cured by a positive result against Bournemouth on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t say nerves are showing. People talk about pressure because we’ve not been in this position, but it’s February. Everyone needs to relax and try and enjoy the run-in,” he said.
Solskjaer’s United eye top-four berth
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s remarkable start as Manchester United manager has lifted his team back into contention to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
United, who have won seven out of eight Premier League games since the Norwegian replaced the sacked Jose Mourinho in December, head to struggling Fulham on Saturday knowing a win would lift them into the top four, at least temporarily.
Chelsea are only two points ahead of fifth-placed United and face a difficult assignment at Manchester City the following day.
“It will be a big mistake if we think further than Fulham. That’s a massive game for us because Chelsea are playing (Manchester) City. Let’s go game by game, because if you lose one game you regret,” United midfielder Ander Herrera said.
Tottenham still title outsiders
Although they sit only five points behind City and Liverpool, Tottenham midfielder Harry Winks admits it would be foolish to start dreaming of a first English league crown since 1961.
Winks knows Tottenham, winners of their past three league games, are still outsiders heading into their home fixture against Leicester on Sunday.
“It’s difficult. We lost to Wolves and people said that we were out of the title race and it’s time for us to get top four and then we won against Newcastle and people say we are back in it,” Winks said.
“At the end of the season we will be looking into that and see where the title is.”
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Fulham v Manchester United (1230), Crystal Palace v West Ham, Huddersfield v Arsenal, Liverpool v Bournemouth, Southampton v Cardiff, Watford v Everton, Brighton v Burnley (1730)
Tottenham v Leicester (1330), Manchester City v Chelsea (1600)
Wolves v Newcastle (2000)