“It really is a final for us this weekend. If we are able to take these points, it is a huge step forward,” says Pep Guardiola about the clash between Manchester City and Chelsea on Sunday. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

LIVERPOOL – Pep Guardiola insisted Manchester City’s 2-0 victory at Everton proved they are determined to win their title fight with Liverpool as the champions returned to the top of the table on Wednesday.

It was a far from inspired performance from City at Goodison Park, but goals from Aymeric Laporte and Gabriel Jesus ensured they knocked Liverpool out of pole position on goal difference.

Liverpool had occupied first place since December 8, but now the pressure is on Jurgen Klopp’s side just five weeks after they could have moved 10 points clear of City.

With Liverpool showing signs of nerves after two successive draws damaged their bid for a first English title since 1990, City took advantage in a fixture which was brought forward due to their League Cup final date with Chelsea later this month.

It was a crucial victory and City manager Guardiola claimed his players have no intention of letting Liverpool off the hook now.

“We come from champions, and we are in a situation where we could have given up but it didn’t happen,” Guardiola said. 

“We gave an incredible game against Liverpool. These players have shown incredible desire and performances for the last two years. How could I question them?

“We have played one more game. but it’s the best we can do. The reality is one month ago, we could have been 10 points behind when we played Liverpool. 

“A few days ago, we could have been seven points behind. Now we are top of the league. That is the best advice, the lesson is – never give up. 

“That is a lesson for all athletes. Try to win the games, because life can change immediately.”

City struck at the best possible time when Laporte headed them in front in the second minute of first half stoppage-time.

The opening goal came from a free kick, needlessly conceded by Idrissa Gueye as he slid in late on Fernandinho, and taken by David Silva.

The Spanish midfielder curled in a perfect delivery which found Laporte unmarked, and only eight yards from goal, for a solid finish.

It was the 16th consecutive league and cup game in which Guardiola’s side has scored a first half goal, a run dating back to their first league defeat of the season at Chelsea in early December.

And in the context of the title race, it may yet prove to be one of the more important although it took until deep into stoppage-time of the second half for City to claim their second.

Kevin de Bruyne played in Jesus, whose initial run was blocked by Jordan Pickford, only for the ball to sit up kindly for the Brazilian to head into an open goal.

That was enough to stretch City’s goal advantage to seven over Liverpool and set up an intriguing weekend, when Klopp’s team must face Bournemouth 24 hours before the leaders host Chelsea on Sunday.

“We have started the week well, (beating) Arsenal and here, now comes a big, big test, a big goal,” Guardiola said. “Chelsea are an exceptional team who have had seven days to prepare. We have to prepare well. 

“It really is a final for us this weekend. If we are able to take these points, it is a huge step forward.”

Having survived a test of their nerve at Everton, City have no time to rest on their laurels.

But Guardiola insisted he won’t complain about the hectic schedule.

“I used to listen to what older managers – Sir Alex Ferguson, Rafa Benitez – what they said and complained about the schedules and nothing happened,” he said.

“I arrived here so I understand the situation. If we played just one competition, the schedule would be better but when you have to play four you have to adapt. 

“So when the Premier League say we have to play there, we take the bus to play at the right time and, at the right moment, we play the game.”

AFP