Manchester City focused on Champions League qualification after midweek exit
Manchester City will look to bounce back from their Champions League heartache as they host Liverpool in a crucial encounter this weekend.
City are still licking their wounds after surrendering a 5-3 first-leg advantage to crash out of Europe’s top club competition at the last-16 stage in Monaco in midweek.
But there is little time to dwell on the loss with the battle for places in next season’s Champions League so tight.
City dropped points in their last Premier League outing against Stoke and can ill afford to give up more ground to top-four rivals Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
“Qualification for the Champions League will be tough until the last game of the Premier League,” manager Pep Guardiola said.
“Except of course for (leaders) Chelsea, the other contenders will be there until the end of the season.
“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 national team break against one of the best teams in the Premier League.”
Liverpool’s hopes of winning the Premier League title faded during a poor January but three wins in their last four games have boosted their chances of a top-four finish.
They will go into the game just a point behind third-placed City, although they have played a game more.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp also has the slight edge in head-to-head meetings with Guardiola following the Reds’ victory at Anfield in December.
Klopp leads Guardiola 5-4 with the pair having also crossed paths during their time in Germany with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich respectively.
Guardiola said: “He’s a top coach. He spots little processes and he has an attacking side. It’s about winning the ball in attack but when they lose the ball immediately it’s a transition from offensive to defensive to win the ball back.
“When they want to attack they feel comfortable. When teams defend deep sometimes they have more problems but they are a top team, he is a top trainer. I respect him a lot.
“They have huge talent, English players and foreign players, so I think they are a really good team.
“It’s a good test because against the teams at the top of the Premier League, Liverpool make the best results.”
Meanwhile, Klopp has no concerns about the form of Philippe Coutinho despite the Brazilian struggling in the second half of the season.
The 24-year-old was one of the stand-out performers during the first four months of the campaign, scoring six times in his first 12 appearances and creating numerous other chances.
However, he missed seven weeks with an ankle injury sustained at the end of November, and since returning he has not rediscovered the same level.
His only goal in the dozen matches he has played since coming back was a consolation effort in the shock 3-1 defeat at Leicester.
He was substituted after an hour following an anonymous performance in last weekend’s win over Burnley, but Klopp is prepared to be patient with his playmaker.
“That’s the life of an outstandingly good football player like Phil,” he said.
“The influence of him on the game is really big. If he is not at 100 per cent you miss something, that’s how it is.
“But two weeks ago we played Arsenal and he did really well. Yes, Burnley again was not the best game, but he misses in this moment – which is pretty normal after a long injury – this kind of consistency.
“But the training week so far was perfect, he presented himself really well; it was fluent, confident and looked really well.
“There are always steps in this direction. Sometimes it works. It’s about, in this moment, consistency but he is in a really good way.”
Klopp will hope for a big performance from Coutinho against top-four rivals City, especially with fitness doubts hanging over his compatriot Roberto Firmino and striker Divock Origi.
With Daniel Sturridge still not recovered from a hip injury which has kept him out since early February and fellow striker Danny Ings ruled out for the season with a serious knee problem, Liverpool’s forward line is looking a little bit light.
Captain Jordan Henderson is not expected to return from a foot problem until the Merseyside derby after the international break, but on the positive front defender Dejan Lovren is fully fit after a 75-minute run out for the under-23s on Monday.