Pep Guardiola has challenged his Manchester City players to show character and pick up back-to-back wins over Leicester City and Southampton before their January showdown against Liverpool.
City have faltered in their defence of the Premier League title this month, with Saturday’s shock 3-2 loss at home to Crystal Palace and a 2-0 reverse away to Chelsea sandwiching the 3-1 win over Everton.
It means Liverpool boast a four-point lead at the top of the table as Guardiola’s men face up to consecutive away games before Jurgen Klopp and his side visit the Etihad Stadium on January 3.
Earlier draws at Wolves and Anfield means City have dropped points four times this season, having only done so six times over the course of their record-breaking campaign last term.
The manner in which Guardiola saw his squad bounce back from such bumps in the road – including a 4-3 reverse at Anfield – means he feels they have the capacity to deal with the challenges ahead.
“We’re going to Leicester needing to win,” he said. “Last season we dropped points and immediately won again.
“That’s what we have to do. We have two games away before the new year and we have to do that.
“When we win I insist they are calm and now it is the same. We lose a game, it happens, and focus on the next one.
“We have to see how our character is. We have shown many times that we react well and we’re going to try again.
“It’s always tough to win at Leicester, then Southampton. We’ll see what happens.”
Two games to put things right this Christmas…
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 24, 2018
One area of concern is City’s failure to keep a clean sheet for eight matches in all competitions since the 4-0 November win at West Ham.
Rotation has meant less-frequent appearances in tandem for the reliable early season centre-back duo Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, with the latter’s deployment as a holding midfielder against Palace an experiment Guardiola might be minded to shelve for the foreseeable future.
However, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss insists his team are restricting opponents and have just been the victims of impressive finishing – most notably when Andros Townsend volleyed home his goal-of-the-season contender last time out.
“Against Southampton [in November] they had three more shots than Palace had on target and we won 6-1,” he added.
“We try to play to concede as few as possible but sometimes football is the only game where the statistics don’t count. The only one that counts is the goals scored.”
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