Manchester City vs. Newcastle United (tomorrow, 5.30pm)
City host Newcastle tomorrow in a match that has assumed a lot more importance for the Premier League leaders following last Sunday’s 4-3 defeat at Liverpool.
Suddenly the Sky Blues aren’t quite so formidable, in fact they’re human, and their first league defeat of the season has emboldened their opponents.
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The signs had been growing in the preceding weeks that City weren’t quite as slick as some said with late goals required to see off Huddersfield Town, Southampton and West Ham United.
Then there was the 2-1 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, their first reverse in 29 matches, and the squeaky 2-1 win against Championship side Bristol City in the semi-final of the League Cup.
The results spoke of a side that was struggling to maintain their early season momentum and Liverpool’s 4-3 win (two late goals from City added a false gloss to the scoreline) underlined that there is still work to be done before they can celebrate the title.
Pep Guardiola has always said as much, telling reporters as far back as November that it was premature to talk of lifting the title.
It was a message he reiterated this week in the wake of the Anfield defeat, saying: “I always said we have a lot of games to win to be champions… you have to fight for everything, win the league, qualify for the Champions League or qualify for the Europa League and teams who want to stay in the Premier League.”
Not that the City boss is panicking. Guardiola is too experienced to let one defeat get under his skin but he nevertheless knows the importance of the game against Newcastle. “I’ve won a lot of leagues and titles and you always drop points and lose games,” he said. “It’s normal and you have to live with it. You have to realise how hard it is to do what we have done so far.”
Guardiola reacted to Sunday’s defeat by giving his players two and a half days of rest, allowing not just their bodies to recover but signalling to them that he’s not unduly anxious about dropping three points.
“My only concern is not points, it is that players are fit to play every three days to maintain the situation,” he said.
Brighton vs. Chelsea (tomorrow, 12.30pm)
It was a similar message from Antonio Conte following Chelsea’s FA Cup third round replay win over Norwich on Wednesday, with the Blues boss bemoaning the fact that his side have to travel to Brighton tomorrow lunchtime.
Still without a league victory this year, Chelsea must win on the south coast if they’re to keep alive their very thin hopes of catching City.
They currently trail Guardiola’s side by 15 points and the more realistic aim is to ensure they finish in the top four and secure an automatic place in next season’s Champions League.
Above them are Liverpool, courtesy of a superior goal difference, and below them are Tottenham, who trail their London rivals by three points.
Burnley vs. Manchester United (tomorrow, 3pm)
Spurs play Southampton on Sunday while Liverpool travel to Swansea on Monday evening. As for second-placed Manchester United, they have an awkward trip to Burnley tomorrow, just three weeks after the clubs met in the Premier League at Old Trafford.
On that occasion Burnley managed just three shots on target in the whole game but two of them found the net and it required a fightback from United to come away with a 2-2 draw.
An ungracious Jose Mourinho railed against the injustice of the result and there is nothing the Burnley faithful will want more than a victory over a United side who trail City by 12 points.
This weekend’s Premier League fixtures
Tomorrow’s fixtures (3pm unless stated)
- Southampton vs. Tottenham Hotspur (4pm, live on Sky Sports)
- Swansea City v Liverpool (8pm, live on Sky Sports)
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