LONDON, United Kingdom, Mar 18 – Pep Guardiola has urged Manchester City to ease their Champions League pain by securing a vital win against Liverpool, while leaders Chelsea aim to move a step closer to the Premier League title this weekend.
Guardiola’s side were eliminated from Europe’s elite club competition in stunning fashion on Wednesday as they blew a 5-3 first leg advantage to go out on away goals following a 3-1 defeat at Monaco.
It was another major setback for City manager Guardiola, who had never before seen one of his teams knocked out before the Champions League quarter-finals.
Former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola was heavily criticised for his tactics and team selection in Monaco.
With third placed City just one point ahead of fourth placed Liverpool in the battle for a top four finish, Guardiola needs a lift at Eastlands on Sunday and he is eager to see how his team respond to the situation.
“Qualification for the Champions League will be tough until the last game of the Premier League,” Guardiola said.
“It will be good to see how everybody reacts, myself and the players, after going out of the Champions League.
“It’s an important game before the international team break against one of the best teams in the Premier League.”
Having won three of their last four games, Liverpool have opened up a five-point gap on fifth placed Arsenal as the race for Champions League qualification hots up.
Arsenal travel to West Bromwich Albion with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger hoping last weekend’s FA Cup win over minnows Lincoln has lifted his players’ shattered morale.
Rocked by the humiliation of a 10-2 aggregate defeat against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16, Wenger has endured calls for his resignation from angry fans and failing to finish in the top four might convince the Frenchman to step down.
“When you care about results and they are not what you want it’s not a happy place,” Wenger said.
“Our job is to do as we well can. We want to play Champions League next season. Six or seven fighting for the places.
“Nothing is good enough anymore so you try to do as well as you can.”
– Dirty work –
With a 10-point lead over second placed Tottenham, Chelsea look odds on to regain the title two years after they were last crowned champions, but it will be intriguing to see how they fare at Stoke following an emotional FA Cup quarter-final victory over Manchester United on Monday.
A fiercely-contested clash was tilted Chelsea’s way by N’Golo Kante’s fine winner, while Blues boss Antonio Conte and United manager Jose Mourinho almost came to blows on the touchline.
Having to re-energise themselves for the less glamorous task of seeing off Stoke might not be easy and Chelsea defender Gary Cahill is counting on Kante to provide the necessary inspiration.
“He had a tremendous game again. He gets credit for the dirty work he does, the energy he has and how he breaks up play. He’s a good finisher as well,” Cahill said.
United, six points adrift of the top four, head to the Riverside Stadium to face second bottom Middlesbrough, who will be in action for the first time since manager Aitor Karanka was sacked on Thursday.
Tottenham, who host Southampton on Sunday, must prove they can thrive without Harry Kane if they are to have any chance of closing the gap on Chelsea.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side will be without England striker Kane for several weeks after their leading scorer suffered an ankle injury in last weekend’s FA Cup win against Millwall.
“We have to keep believing and we have a team who do believe. As you saw from Barcelona against PSG, anything is possible in football,” Kane said of Tottenham’s title chances.
Leicester, fresh from their dramatic Champions League win over Sevilla, have a chance to pull clear of the relegation battle when they take on West Ham.
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Bournemouth v Swansea (1730 GMT), Crystal Palace v Watford, Everton v Hull, Stoke v Chelsea, Sunderland v Burnley, West Brom v Arsenal (1230 GMT), West Ham v Leicester
Manchester City v Liverpool (1630 GMT), Middlesbrough v Manchester United (1200 GMT), Tottenham v Southampton (1415 GMT)