Tricky test for City; Blues’ ghosts ‘don’t haunt’ Reds - GulfToday

Tricky test for City; Blues’ ghosts ‘don’t haunt’ Reds

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Pep Guardiola attracted criticism for leaving both Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane on the bench until the final minute against Spurs in midweek. File / Reuters

Manchester City’s quest for an unprecedented quadruple leaves Pep Guardiola with a perilous balancing act for Sunday’s trip to a Crystal Palace side that know how to shock the Premier League champions.

Last season, Palace ended City’s record 18-game winning run last season but Guardiola’s team still amassed 100 points as they cruised to the title.

In a much tighter title race this season, with City just behind Liverpool, the Eagles’ 3-2 win at the Etihad in December could yet be the game that costs Guardiola’s men.

A visit to Selhurst Park would therefore be a tricky fixture for City at the best of times, but the timing, between the two legs of a Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham, adds an extra layer of difficulty.

Moreover, City’s 1-0 defeat in the first leg in north London, means they are in danger of again missing out on the trophy that the club’s Abu Dhabi owners most desire after billions of pounds worth of investment.

“That’s true (it is a dangerous game),” said Guardiola.

“We knew it from weeks ago, how it would be between these important games and Tottenham in the Champions League.

“Selhurst Park is always difficult, not just for the stadium itself but for the quality of the players they have.”

Guardiola attracted criticism for what was seen as a conservative team selection against Spurs in midweek, leaving both Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane on the bench until the final minute, while peripheral figures Fabian Delph and Riyad Mahrez started.

Guardiola’s upbeat attitude, despite a first defeat in 15 games, suggests a longer-term plan to keep his squad as fresh as possible for a gruelling run-in.

After Palace, City host Tottenham twice in four days in the second leg of their Champions League tie and the Premier League.

Then comes a midweek derby at Manchester United and a trip to Burnley before potentially two more Champions League games in the space of a week in the semi-finals.

The title remains in City’s hands, trailing Liverpool by two points but with a game in hand.

“We have six games left to finish the Premier League. We know what we are playing for and we are going to prepare well,” added Guardiola.

Oleksandr Zinchenko and Bernardo Silva are back in contention are minor muscle injuries, but are likely to be kept in reserve and rested for Tottenham, with Danilo, Benjamin Mendy, Sane and De Bruyne among those set to return.

Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool will not be haunted by their Premier League title collapse five years ago when they face Chelsea in another seismic showdown on Sunday.

Liverpool are chasing their first English top-flight title since 1990. A victory over the Blues at Anfield would be a big step toward that dream.

But Chelsea stirs some extremely unpleasant memories for everyone connected with the Premier League leaders. Back in 2014, Liverpool, then managed by Brendan Rodgers, sat top of the table when they were beaten 2-0 by Chelsea at Anfield in a match made famous by a costly slip from Steven Gerrard that gifted a goal to Demba Ba.

That painful loss came at a similar stage of the campaign and current title rivals Manchester City went on to lift the trophy by two points.

With Liverpool sitting two points clear of City, who have a game in hand, there is just as much at stake for the Reds in their latest meeting with Chelsea.

Few Liverpool players remain from that game and Klopp is adamant that past failures will be a burden for this generation.

“I’m not sure that’s in anyone’s mind. You can tell all the fans out there to ignore it. It has nothing to do with us. It is a completely different story,” Klopp said.

“It’s all about the game on Sunday. Anyone who wants to talk to any of my players about what happened years ago, don’t do it. We want to write our own history.

“I’m not nervous. I feel the intensity of the competition, but we see the positivity of the moment.

“We want to make the next step because it’s not over yet. We try to encourage them to play ‘big balls’ football. We will make mistakes and we have to deal with them.”

For all Klopp’s optimism, Liverpool have not beaten Chelsea at Anfield in their past eight encounters, a barren run that includes a 2-1 League Cup defeat this season inspired by Eden Hazard’s superb late winner.

Klopp is well aware of the threat posed by Hazard, who is in fine form after scoring sublime goals against West Ham and Brighton recently.

“Hazard is in very good shape. On his day he can be the world’s best,” he said.

“In a one-on-one situation you can’t defend him. If he plays his best game we have to live with that.”

Agence France-Presse