Pep Guardiola has likened the Premier League title race to his titanic battles with Real Madrid and claimed the weight of history could spur Liverpool on to glory.
Today is only the seventh time in 18 months that Manchester City have headed into a game adrift of the leaders on points, although they can call on the returning Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero against Everton.
Former Barcelona coach Guardiola is not yet admitting this is a two-horse race, but did reveal the rivalry with Liverpool has all the hallmarks of Clasico tussles of years gone by.
He suggested the eventual champions will need a tally of close to 100 points, as City did last season. The record 96 points Manuel Pellegrini recorded as Real Madrid boss before ultimately finishing second in 2010 remains fresh in his memory.
‘It’s quite similar — I have that feeling,’ Guardiola said. ‘It’s just trying to win every game to be there — when you are in front, try to keep the moment. The players know it.
‘Madrid were always demanding a lot — at least when I was there — and we knew it.
‘We could lose against Real Madrid but we had to win against the others or we were not able to win the title. That is why we won the leagues with 99 points, 96 points — a lot of points.’
Liverpool have not lifted the league title since 1990 and Guardiola believes that will be on minds at Melwood before Jose Mourinho travels to Anfield with sixth-placed Manchester United tomorrow.
The City manager recognised that defending the crown was going to be tougher than winning it and used the opening weeks of August to drum that message into his squad.
‘Liverpool and United are the biggest clubs in the history of England and (for Liverpool) 28 years without winning the league is many, many years,’ Guardiola added. ‘I’d say the manager and players go, “Oh, we have the challenge to write our own history”. For them it’s so important, but they’re a top team. They are going to drop few points — not too many — so we have to be there to be close to them and catch up.
‘I’ve lived with it and I’m used to it. It’s not comfortable but with that pressure you can win.
‘It’s not just Liverpool, there is Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal... Man United can make a good run and join us.
‘We knew it from the beginning, everyone had that feeling. The level has increased a lot compared to the last two or three seasons, with how the big teams are playing. Everyone is feeling we have to give extra.’
Guardiola is buoyed by De Bruyne’s return and the influential Belgian should be back in the City squad for the first time since November 1. He has played just twice this season because of two knee injuries.
‘Kevin finished last season exhausted, it was so tough for him,’ Guardiola said. ‘Maybe it helped us. Now he’s fresh in his mind, he has recovered and now he tries again to avoid the injuries and play regularly.
‘He is going to be important for us. He is a special player.’Daily Mail