Manchester City manager Mark Hughes is more eager than usual to learn the result of the mouthwatering Anfield clash between bitter enemies Liverpool and Manchester United.
On the back of their best start to a season since 1977, City find themselves challenging for a place in the top four of the Barclays Premier League, and maybe even for the title itself.
Hughes’ side are five points behind leaders United with a game in hand, which is why their cross-city rivals’ clash at Liverpool on Sunday is of far greater importance than it has been in the past.
City are not cosily wrapped in a mid-table blanket, or hovering nervously over the relegation zone, as they have tended to be at this stage of past seasons.
They now have far loftier ambitions, and that means keeping an eye on the ‘big four’ results because Hughes firmly believes their grip on such positions will be broken this term.
With the Liverpool-United game starting two hours ahead of City’s home clash with Fulham, Hughes said: “I’m relishing the fact the other two are playing each other.
“It’s a big fixture in the sporting calendar, and irrespective of our ambitions this year, everybody looks at that game because it’s a big one and there’s huge focus on it.
“Maybe this year we’re looking at it with a different view and with renewed interest.
“You hope the teams in and around you stumble so you can take full advantage of that.
“Obviously, in years gone by, we’ve been more used to mid-table teams and the like, and looking at their results.
“Maybe now we can say we’re looking at the top teams around us and hoping they’re going to fail.”
It is further evidence of how times are changing at City, and how the landscape of the Premier League is also altering.
With Tottenham and Aston Villa joining City in threatening the prior monopoly enjoyed by United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, Hughes feels the title race could be closer than ever.
“When we go up against the top four teams, if we can do our work and take points off them, then that will help us in terms of the ambitions we have,” added Hughes.
“Along the way, I’m convinced this year and as we’ve already seen, the top teams will lose more points than they’ve ever done.
“That’s not with the benefit of hindsight. I sensed that at the beginning of the season.
“I just felt there were a lot of strong teams, ourselves included, that could cause those teams a problem.”
That has already been seen, with United losing at Burnley, Chelsea being beaten by Wigan and Villa, and Liverpool on a slump which has seen them slip to eighth place.
But Hughes knows his side have to take advantage of any result, and avoid a further shock against Fulham who have won three of their last four league games at City.
Hughes is hoping a hectic week for Fulham, that saw them beat Hull on Monday and draw against Roma in the Europa League last night, plays into City’s hands.
“Our record against Fulham isn’t great in recent years,” reflected Hughes.
“But they played Monday, Thursday, and now they’re heading up the motorway to play us, so it’s a big ask for them.
“It’s difficult when you’re in Europe, as we found out at times to our cost, so we hope to benefit from that on this occasion.”
Hughes is hopeful skipper Kolo Toure and Craig Bellamy can return to the side after missing last Sunday’s draw at Wigan with a heel injury and groin strain respectively.
Hughes is definitely without Pablo Zabaleta as the defender serves a one-match ban following his dismissal for two bookable offences at the DW Stadium.
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