Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is not giving up on the Premier League title ahead of the home clash against rock-bottom Aston Villa on Saturday.
After beating Liverpool to claim League Cup glory last weekend, City succumbed to a 3-0 loss at Anfield on Wednesday as they failed to seize an opportunity to make ground on title rivals Leicester City, Tottenham and Arsenal – none of whom won in midweek.
City have 11 matches to play and sit 10 points behind leaders Leicester with just one game in hand after losing three league games in a row for the first time since 2008.
However, even though City have been joined on points by rivals Manchester United in the battle for a top-four spot, Pellegrini still only has eyes for a title challenge.
“I hope on Saturday we can return to our normal level of performance,” he said. “I said always the Premier League will be won by a team with 80 points or less.
“It is an important gap, but we are not thinking about other teams. It is important to try and recover the energy we normally have. We have not played well in the last few games in the Premier League.
“Liverpool is an important defeat because we now have one game less and we couldn’t win one point.”
While City may be struggling, Villa are in disarray having only won three league matches all season to leave them eight points adrift of safety with 10 games to go.
Manager Remi Garde acknowledges that facing City and high-flying Tottenham in their next two matches is far from ideal, but urged his players to stick together and fight for survival.
“We are now coming into games against teams at the top of the table at the end of the season, which is not a good thing because points are crucial for them as well as us,” he told the club’s official website.
“But in football you never know. Sometimes games are going in a way that no one has expected before.
“We must ensure we are not focused too much on our opponents – we have to focus on what we can improve and what we can do.
“I said to them [the players] that in difficult situations like this one we have to stick all together. This is the first thing we have to do – and if we don’t do this, we have no chance.
“It’s already very difficult outside the changing room and I don’t want anyone in the group to add problems within us. We will stick together and look to win the next game.”
That will be an extremely tough ask, as City have won seven and lost just one of the last nine league clashes with Villa.
Villa, who held City to a 0-0 draw in Garde’s first game in charge in November, have failed to score in six of the last eight league encounters against them.
City will check on Yaya Toure’s foot injury ahead of the game after he missed the Liverpool defeat, while Villa are not expected to welcome any of their injured players – including Jack Grealish (ankle) – back in time to play.
Key Opta Stats:
– Sergio Aguero has scored four goals in his last three Premier League matches against Aston Villa.
– If the league had started on the weekend of 7-8 November when Remi Garde first took charge in a 0-0 draw versus Manchester City, Villa would still be bottom and City would be 12th.
– City have not lost three Premier League home games in a row since March 2007 and have not gone three home games without a win since November 2010.
– Villa have taken just three points from a possible 39 in their last 13 Premier League away games.
– Villa have scored just five goals in the last 10 Premier League road trips.