English Premiership

Rodgers lays down gauntlet

2014-04-14 10:37
Brendan Rodgers (AFP)

London - Vanquished 3-2 by Premier League leaders Liverpool at the weekend, Manchester City have an immediate opportunity to trim their title rivals' advantage when they host Sunderland on Wednesday.

Liverpool's victory at a raucous Anfield on Sunday took them seven points clear of City, who have two games in hand, and two points above Chelsea, leaving them four victories from a first league title since 1990.

The game against City had been billed as a title decider, and having seen his side prevail thanks to a 78th-minute Philippe Coutinho strike, manager Brendan Rodgers urged his players simply to keep going.

"We've been put under pressure in a very big game against a big opponent, but you can see from our football that we are coping," said the Northern Irishman, whose side have won 10 consecutive league matches.

"My message to the players is to continue. We don't need to change. We played with no fear. You can see that, whether it is the big opponent like Manchester City or at Norwich City next week.

"Manchester City have still got a couple of games in hand, but to win 10 successive games in the Premier League is a great achievement, and hopefully 10 will become 11 next week."

While their destiny is no longer in their own hands, City know that they can theoretically close to within a point of Rodgers's side if they win their two games in hand, starting with Wednesday's visit of bottom club Sunderland.

With Chelsea still to visit Anfield on the weekend of April 26-27, Liverpool's grip on first place is far from secure, and City manager Manuel Pellegrini has urged his side not to abandon hope.

"It is not the end of the Premier League," said the Chilean.

"The most important thing today (Sunday) is now it is not dependent what we do in the future.

"If Liverpool win their four games maybe they deserve to win the title, but we will continue fighting until the end. We have to play one of our games in hand on Wednesday."

- Top-four battle intensifies -

City are likely to be without influential midfielder Yaya Toure, who is due to undergo tests on Monday after limping off with a hamstring problem during the first half at Anfield.

Focus this week will also turn to the battle to secure a Champions League place, with Arsenal seeking to break back into the top four after being dislodged by Everton at the weekend.

Arsenal, who beat Wigan Athletic on penalties on Saturday to reach the FA Cup final, welcome West Ham United to the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, while Everton host Crystal Palace the following day.

Fatigue will be an issue for Arsenal after 120 sapping minutes on the Wembley turf, but defender Thomas Vermaelen says that Arsene Wenger's side cannot allow that to cloud their focus.

"It was a long day and a quick turnaround, but we've done that before, playing Saturday and Tuesday, so we can't use that as an excuse," said the Belgian.

"I don't think they (West Ham) will come to the Emirates and just settle. I think they will come to win."

Like West Ham, Palace are seven points above the relegation zone, having taken a sizeable step towards safety with a 1-0 success at home to Aston Villa on Saturday.

Everton must still welcome both Manchester clubs to Goodison Park, but with a two-point advantage over Arsenal, they are in the driving seat in the race for a top-four finish.

"We want that pressure in terms of performing well week in, week out, and finding ways to win games consistently," said manager Roberto Martinez.

"But we are fighting to achieve something. We have something to win. Believe me, that in football is no pressure whatsoever."


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