Chastened City seek title race solace

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Chastened City seek title race solace

Manuel Pellegrini’s men face Liverpool at Anfield London

By (Agencies)

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Published: Sat 28 Feb 2015, 3:23 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 8:05 PM

London — Scarred by mid-week Champions League disappointment, Manchester City have a golden opportunity to enhance their Premier League title defence when they visit Liverpool this weekend. City’s hopes of reaching the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time were dealt a sizeable blow on Tuesday when they fell to a 2-1 loss at home to Barcelona in the first leg of their last 16 tie.

The result seriously compromises their chances of going through and the extent of Barcelona’s first-half dominance will take some forgetting, but Sunday’s return to domestic duties promises much.

With leaders Chelsea not in action due to their participation in Sunday’s League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur, a City win at Anfield will lift the defending champions to within two points of the summit. City then face a kind run of fixtures, against Leicester City, Burnley, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace, at a time when Chelsea, held to a 1-1 draw by Burnley last weekend, have begun to show frailties.

Victory at Liverpool, the team City pipped to last season’s title, will not be straightforward, with Brendan Rodgers’s side unbeaten at home since November and on a 10-game unbeaten run in the league. But Rodgers feels that Liverpool’s draining trip to Istanbul on Thursday, where they lost on penalties following extra-time to Besiktas in the Europa League, could give City an advantage.

“That extra period of 48 hours that City have could be crucial, certainly physically, especially as we will have very little preparation time,” Rodgers said. “But the players have had lots of challenges to overcome this season and we are ready to keep performing and doing the best we can.” Liverpool, currently sixth, will recall Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho after he was rested for the trip to Turkey, while Yaya Toure returns for City after missing the Barcelona defeat through suspension. Another side bidding to overcome European disappointment are Arsenal, who host Everton on Sunday, four days after a 3-1 home defeat by Monaco in the Champions League. A run of seven wins in nine games had seen Arsene Wenger’s side climb to third place in the league table, but with their Champions League hopes now hanging by a thread, the club have been plunged into doubt.

“It was a hugely disappointing night, you could feel that after the game in the stands and in the dressing room, but there is still a small chance (to qualify),” said German centre-back Per Mertesacker. “We still have hope to come back even stronger from that disappointment.” With just four points separating third-place Arsenal and seventh-place Tottenham, the battle for Champions League qualification is one of the fiercest for several seasons. — Agencies

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