Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has challenged title rivals, Liverpool, to respond after they went top of the Premier League for the first time in two months.
A 2-0 win at Everton, thanks to goals in added time at the end of each half from Aymeric Laporte and substitute Gabriel Jesus, lifted them above their title rivals on goal difference, having played one match more.
The win at Goodison Park puts the pressure back on Jurgen Klopp’s side – who a month ago had a chance to go 10 points clear with a win at the Etihad Stadium – who play Bournemouth on Saturday, 24 hours before City host Chelsea.
“It’s a question for them. We are leaders. Twelve games to play, a lot of points,” said Guardiola when asked what his side going top of the table meant.
“Now comes a big test, a big goal. Chelsea is 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.”
The City boss praised his side for their persistence, having been on the verge of seemingly being dumped out of the title race at the beginning of January.
“The reality is we could have been, one month ago, 10 points behind when we played Liverpool,” he added. “A few days ago we could have been seven points behind. Now we are top of the league.
“The lesson is never to give up. That is the best advice. That is a lesson for all athletes. Try to win the games, because life can change immediately.”
The city was far from their fluent best at Goodison Park, where they found Everton’s 4-4-1-1 system tough to break down.
However, they found a way to win – helped by the Toffees conceding their 17th goal from a set-piece (excluding penalties) – and Guardiola had nothing but praise.
“Always the application is there,” he added. “The performance is not as good as we expect. Goodison Park is always difficult for Manchester City in the last decade.
“We made a good first half. We didn’t concede one shot on target here at Goodison Park, which is not normal.”
Everton boss Marco Silva was left to bemoan their fragility at set-pieces once again.
“It’s a big frustration to concede after 47 minutes in first half, after 97 minutes in the second half,” Silva said.
“I don’t want to talk more about set-pieces. What I tell, I will tell to the players.
“I understand why you ask, but there is something inside the mind of our players. We have to work more.”