Manchester City know they must keep themselves in a position to pounce if Premier League title favorites Liverpool slip up when they play the first of their two games in hand against bottom club Sunderland today.
Liverpool’s 3-2 victory at Anfield on Sunday allowed the Reds to stay clear at the top of the table and extend their advantage over third-placed City to seven points.
That will be an unbridgeable gap if Liverpool win their remaining four games to lift their first top-flight championship since 1989-1990, but Brendan Rodgers’ side still have to face title rivals Chelsea, giving a glimmer of hope to City, who would finish top if Liverpool fail to win just one of their games and City take a maximum 18 points.
Four of City’s remaining fixtures are at home, starting against a Sunderland side which has failed to win in their last nine games and who were beaten by City in the final of the League Cup at the start of last month.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini has vowed to fight to the end and defender Martin Demichelis believes City still have time to overhaul Liverpool after pushing the leaders all the way in Sunday’s epic encounter on Merseyside.
“We showed real fight until the end. No one left the stadium feeling like they were champions. We have plenty of matches left,” Demichelis said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a more positive result, but we can still bring something positive before the end of the league. We have seen in football that they can make mistakes. Hopefully, we can win the rest of our matches and expect some mistakes from Liverpool.”
City captain Vincent Kompany, whose error led to Liverpool’s winning goal from Philippe Coutinho, reiterated the “never give up” message and is expected to be fit to face Sunderland after an injury scare prior to the match at Anfield.
Midfielder Yaya Toure looks unlikely to play after limping off at Liverpool with a groin injury, but City should still have enough to beat a Sunderland team which is in free fall and heading toward the Championship at an alarming pace.
It is a remarkable decline for a club that reached the final of the League Cup and even manager Gus Poyet sounds defeatist as he considers what awaits them against City.
Poyet has adopted a fatalistic attitude after seeing the outcome of games dictated so often by red cards and own-goals.
“What is going to happen to us that is new on Wednesday? We can have a bet,” Poyet said.
Poyet’s own future at the club has come under scrutiny for the first time following Sunderland’s 1-0 defeat by Everton at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
The Uruguayan is reluctant to embark on the massive rebuilding job that is clearly needed at Sunderland, where the contracts of eight players end this summer.
At least half the team expected to start against City will not be at the club next season and that can only be a positive for their opponents in the remainder of the Premier League season.
One player likely still to be there is striker Connor Wickham.
“We won’t give up,” Wickham said. “We have 23 players in the dressing room who want to stay up, who want to be here and do well for the team.”
You would not expect Wickham to say anything else, of course, but form suggests the trip to City will simply be another stride toward relegation.