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It's almost a final for us - Guardiola

City boss believes 'nobody trusts us' to stop Reds' title charge as he aims to turn up heat

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: PA

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: PA

PA

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: PA

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes Liverpool have yet to fully experience what it's like to be on the verge of winning a Premier League title and hopes to increase that pressure with victory at the Etihad tonight.

It's 29 years since Liverpool last tasted league glory and Guardiola believes that level of expectation could be "difficult to handle" with City ready to pounce on any slip-ups.

City can close the gap at the top to four points by claiming a first win in five over Liverpool but they know defeat will leave them 10 points behind Jurgen Klopp's side and potentially deal an irreparable blow to their hopes of becoming the first club to retain the championship for a decade.

"I know today nobody trusts us, but it is what it is," said Guardiola. "Liverpool are, in the moment, the best team in Europe, in their consistency, the way they control the details in their game.

"Everyone is talking about if we lose, but what happens if we win? We're going to try, we know what we have to do.

"The reality is clear - we are seven points down. I have the feeling it is a big opportunity for us to reduce the gap. We know how important it is. If we are not able to win, especially if we lose - 10 points, goal difference 11 - if they continue that run, it will be so difficult. It's almost a final for us. For them, nothing changes."

Yet Guardiola, who is preparing to welcome back midfielder Kevin De Bruyne from injury, insisted he was at his "most calm" in the belief that his players would deliver and stressed the importance of fighting until the end, given the prospect of Liverpool cracking under the pressure of trying to win a first championship since 1990.

City won the title by 19 points last seasons after amassing an unprecedented century of points but they will be forced to come from behind to retain it.

Asked if it was harder to maintain optimism trying to chase down a rival than lead from the front, Guardiola said: "That is why we are surprised how (well) we have done. My feeling is, last season, it was a little bit easier to maintain that hunger because 80 per cent of the players had not won anything in our lives. So, I can feel what they feel - the Liverpool players. After 29 years not winning the Premier League, to be there to win the Premier League, I understand. And I said to the players - that's difficult to handle. That is why it is important for us to maintain being there for as far as possible.

"You have to take the responsibility to face them, of being there until the end. I know what happened after Chelsea and Leicester won the league, the year after was tough (for them).

"We've avoided that, we've got a lot of points, we are fighting, but the opponents have been incredible. But we are there, we have a lot of games to go and I think everyone will lose points, even Liverpool. There are a lot of competitions, a lot of targets and every game will be tough. We'll see what happens."

Guardiola is confident that his players will embrace the pressure. "It's an incredible pleasure (to be involved in these games)," he said. "I'm a manager to play these kind of games, to see what we can do on the big stage. It's a dream to play these kind of games. It's when I'm most calm, more relaxed. I know the players have the responsibility and will give the best performance they can. I am so calm because I know the players will be there. Everyone will be there to do our game. If it is different pressure (chasing to being chased) - we have to live it. We have to handle it. We are ready (to handle it)."

Kevin De Bruyne missed the 3-1 win at Southampton on Sunday with a muscle problem that forced him to be substituted in the St Stephen's Day defeat by Leicester but he trained yesterday and Guardiola said he was "much better", even though he will be assessed again this morning.

Headache

Guardiola's main selection headache is at left-back. With Benjamin Mendy ruled out until next month with a knee injury and Fabian Delph suspended after his red card at Leicester, the manager must decide whether to shift Danilo to left-back and recall the out-of-form Kyle Walker, or keep faith with Oleksandr Zinchenko, or break up his first choice centre-half pairing of Aymeric Laporte and John Stones by playing Laporte as a makeshift left-back.

Alternatively, he could switch to a three-man defence and play wing-backs.

Laporte struggled at left-back against the pace of Mohamed Salah in the 3-0 Champions League quarter-final, first-leg defeat at Anfield last season, so Guardiola may be reluctant to try that approach again.

City have not beaten Liverpool for 16 months, losing three of their past four matches to Klopp's side, but Guardiola is unfazed.

"To be relaxed against Liverpool will be a mistake," he said. "We have to be aggressive with and without the ball, take responsibility and be ourselves."

Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk