Pep Guardiola insists it is far too early to write off Manchester City’s chances of defending their Premier League title, but the champions’ fourth defeat in nine league games has emboldened Liverpool’s hopes of ending a 29-year wait to win the title.
Win at home to Leicester at Anfield on Wednesday, and Jurgen Klopp’s men will have a seven-point lead over City with just 14 games left to negotiate.
Moreover, there is every chance that lead could be extended in the coming week as City host Arsenal and Chelsea either side of a trip to the other side of Liverpool to face Everton in a testing eight-day stretch, starting on Sunday.
“Next week will be tough with Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea,” said Guardiola after a shock 2-1 defeat at Newcastle on Tuesday.
“If we want to go up as a club, we have to accept that challenge. There are a lot of titles and points to play for.”
Unlike Liverpool, who bowed out at the first hurdle of both domestic cups with Klopp fielding weakened teams, Guardiola believes the way forward for City to establish themselves as a dominant power in the era of the club’s Abu Dhabi funded wealth is silverware on all fronts.
“What are the best teams in the last decade? Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona. These are the three best teams in Europe. Why? Because every season they win the league, every season they win the cups, every season they are there,” Guardiola said this week.
“We can – not get close to them, because it’s difficult – but imitate them. Being in the competition until the last stages. Sometimes you are lucky, sometimes not, but be there.”
City are still involved in four competitions having progressed to the League Cup final and last 16 of the FA Cup in recent weeks, while Liverpool have had time for a winter training camp in Dubai during a 10-day break since their last outing.
However, in chasing a quadruple of trophies, City’s challenge to become the first side in a decade to retain the Premier League has faltered.
Despite taking the lead after just 24 seconds at St James’ Park, defensive deficiencies were exposed in a second-half Newcastle fightback, just as they were in December defeats to Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Leicester.
PEP 💬 Our game was slow, we didn’t commit. They shoot for the first time and it’s a goal, the second was a penalty. But congratulations to Newcastle.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) January 29, 2019
By contrast, Liverpool have kept 13 clean sheets and conceded just 13 goals in 23 games prior to Leicester’s visit.
Klopp admitted on Tuesday that the title race is too “intense” for him to enjoy.
The German is yet to win a trophy since taking charge in October 2015, but he is now on the brink of delivering the one most craved on Merseyside for nearly three decades.
And if Liverpool to go on to win the title, one of Klopp’s predecessors who came close to delivering the holy grail 10 years ago will have played his part.
Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool fell just short in 2008/09 against a Manchester United side blessed with Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in their prime, and who remain the last team to retain the Premier League.
Nos tocó perder pero vamos a luchar hasta el final como siempre lo hacemos 💪🏽// It wasn’t for us to win this time but we’ll fight til the end like we always do. C’mon, City! 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/dI2mCcKGaG
— Sergio Kun Aguero (@aguerosergiokun) January 29, 2019
Now Newcastle manager, a victory that boosted the Magpies’ chances of survival was doubly sweet for the Spaniard.
“When you have to win, even a draw is not good enough for you then maybe you will play with more anxiety, you will make more mistakes,” said Benitez from experience as, despite just two defeats all season a decade ago, 11 draws cost Liverpool the title.
“I said in the press conference before the game, maybe they will feel a little more pressure, and I think that was another factor.”