Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford found the back of the net as Manchester United continued their dream run under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the Red Devils registering a 2-0 win on Wednesday.
Alexis Sanchez and Lukaku were called from the bench in the 63rd minute. Rashford’s free kick was spilled by goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and Lukaku found his mark from close range.
United doubled their lead in the 80 minute when Lukaku found Sanchez and the Chilean laid it on a platter for Rashford for his fifth goal in nine games.
Solskjaer thus achieved something with Manchester United which only Sir Matt Busby can boast of. The 45-year-old has made a dream start to his interim role at Old Trafford, overseeing three victories before the Newcastle game.
The Norwegian’s predecessor Jose Mourinho also won his first three league matches in charge but lost his fourth and only Busby, who chalked up five successive wins, has had a better start.
The champions would fall 10 points behind Jurgen Klopp’s leaders if the Reds win Thursday’s eagerly-anticipated encounter at the Etihad Stadium.
Questions are being asked of City after they suffered three defeats in the space of four games in December but Guardiola is not entertaining the prospect of another loss.
Guardiola said: “The reality is clear, we are seven points down. I have the feeling it is a big opportunity for us to reduce the gap.
“We are going to focus on what we have to do to win the game. Everyone is talking if we lose, but what happens if we win? We are going to try to make our game and to fight as far as possible for our chance to win the Premier League.”
While City have stuttered in recent weeks, Liverpool have been in fine form, winning their last nine games. They thrashed Arsenal 5-1 in their last outing and Guardiola claims City are the underdogs.
He said: “It is Liverpool, with (Manchester) United, the best team in England in history. But we can beat them.
“I know today nobody trusts us, nobody makes one coin for us, but it is what it is. They are at the moment the best team in Europe, in the consistency, the way they control the details in their game. It is a good challenge for us if we’re going to reduce the gap.”
Liverpool beat City in three of their four meetings last season, including both legs of their Champions League quarter-finals.
Guardiola said: “I cannot figure out that what happened in the past is going to happen in the future. Every time we won a lot of games it doesn’t mean it will happen in the future.
“I have a feeling everyone can beat us but also that we can beat everyone. Last year we beat them 5-0 here – but it doesn’t count now.
“Of course if we win we will have more confidence, we will be happier than if we lose. We know exactly which opponent we play, the respect we have. That is the challenge.
“If we want to grow like a club, like an organisation and like a team, we have to face these kind of games with the pressure that means.”
City have a doubt over playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who missed Sunday’s victory at Southampton with a muscle injury.
Guardiola, speaking at his pre-match press conference on Wednesday, said: “He trained today but tomorrow we need another check in the morning – but he is much better.”
City’s recent form has brought speculation they may seek to reinforce their squad in January but Guardiola continues to insist there will be no signings.
He said: “It’s the third time I answered that question. No news is good news, so no. Maybe tomorrow I change my opinion but today no.
“I am glad with the players I have, they can play in different positions. We are going to live with that situation.”
The Reds go into the meeting with a seven-point lead over their title rivals at the top of the Premier League.
Klopp was keen to push aside the hype, saying he saw it “as a normal game against Manchester City”.
He added: “A very difficult one, one of the most difficult games you can play in the modern football world. We felt that plenty of times. It’s a really strong football team with an outstanding manager.
“We have to be prepared as good as possible, we have to be brave, we have to be full of desire, angry, like in all the other games.
“But with the knowledge the opponent is, for me, still the best team in the world. Only the points changed, not the preparation for the game.”
Klopp and Pep Guardiola have both talked up the strength of their opposition, with the City boss returning the compliment by hailing Liverpool as the world’s premier side.
“He said, ‘in the moment’,” said Klopp. “Yes, with the record we had in December, we had a good moment and we have a very, very, very good football team.
“That’s why we have the amount of points, that’s why we had the results. But we prepare for one game.
“A couple of weeks ago we were a point behind and then (the talk) was if we lose, then it’s four points, can you close that gap. It’s all only talk. It has nothing to do with the reality.
“A big part of the football world is talking about it before it happens. But we are there to let it happen. We are very excited because it’s a very interesting game, we’re looking forward to it, but apart from that it’s a normal situation.”
Liverpool go into the clash having won three of the last four meetings between the sides but their last league trip to the Etihad ended in a 5-0 defeat last September.
Guardiola has already labelled it a must-not-lose game for his team, stating the title race would be finished should City slip 10 points adrift.
Klopp expects the situation to fire up City, saying: “If we would be 10 points behind, would the first thing I say be, ‘We’ll catch them’. Of course not, it’s difficult with the qualities all the teams have.
“But it’s January 3. It’s a very, very important game for both teams, obviously. I would use it as motivation for the other team. They will be ready and we have to make sure we are ready.”
Liverpool remain unbeaten in the league having dropped just six points this season and go into the match on a nine-match winning streak.
Klopp highlighted the run to last season’s Champions League final, which they lost to Real Madrid, as the moment when a switch flicked.
“I think we got rid, finally, of the backpack when we reached the Champions League final,” he said.
“We didn’t win it, yes, but not 20 teams in the past reached the Champions League final. That was the moment when we did something really special. Since then it feels different.”
While City wait on Kevin De Bruyne, Klopp must decide whether to throw in James Milner, who missed the Boxing Day win over Newcastle with a minor muscle injury and returned to full training on Tuesday.
“He’s very, very important for us, of course,” said Klopp. “His influence on the team is massive.”
The German, meanwhile, welcomed the signing by Chelsea of exciting USA international Christian Pulisic from his old club Borussia Dortmund. Pulisic had been linked with a switch to rejoin Klopp at Liverpool in the past but will see out the rest of the season in Germany before moving to Stamford Bridge in the summer.
Klopp said: “He’s a good player. I’ve known him for a while, followed him. Good signing for Chelsea but good deal as well, Dortmund can keep him. Another really skilled boy playing in England. Good.”