Kevin De Bruyne says he would be among the first to congratulate Liverpool if they can wrest the title off a determined Manchester City.
Champions City kept up the pressure on Premier League leaders Liverpool with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over West Ham on Wednesday, ensuring the gap at the top remained at one point.
Both teams now have 10 games to play and De Bruyne has warned the Reds that he feels City’s play is matching the standards they showed last year.
The midfielder said: “There’s not a different atmosphere as we are probably on the same level as we were then – but last year we were 12 points ahead, and now we are one behind. That shows Liverpool are doing well.
“If we keep winning and they keep winning it goes to the wire, but if we win every game until the end of the season and it’s not enough you just have to congratulate Liverpool, as they will win with 99 points.
“There are still 10 games in the Premier League – a long way to go – and Liverpool are still there, so we try to win game by game.
“We don’t know where we will end up. We want to win every game but with the schedule being so tough it gets difficult.”
City are next in action at Bournemouth on Saturday, when they will have a chance to return to the top ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Everton on Sunday.
City, who won the Carabao Cup last weekend, are still in contention for an unprecedented quadruple and are trying to balance the title chase with involvement in the Champions League and FA Cup.
“You try to win game by game and if you come to the end stages you want to win the tournament,” said De Bruyne.
Claudio Ranieri has been sacked as Fulham manager after just over three months at Craven Cottage.
The relegation-threatened London side announced on Thursday they had parted company with the Italian and appointed Scott Parker as caretaker boss.
He leaves with Fulham 19th in the Premier League, 10 points off safety with 10 games remaining.
His last match in charge was a 2-0 loss at Southampton on Wednesday, an eighth defeat in nine games in all competitions.
Ranieri, who famously guided Leicester to title glory in 2016, was brought in last November after a disappointing start to the campaign – the club’s first back in the top flight – under Slavisa Jokanovic.
He made a promising start but was ultimately unable to reverse fortunes.
Chairman Shad Khan said in a statement: “Following our discussion this afternoon, Claudio Ranieri agreed to my decision that a change was in the best interest of everyone.
“Claudio’s tenure at Fulham didn’t produce the outcome we anticipated and needed when I appointed him as manager in November but, be assured, he is not solely to blame for the position we are in.
“Claudio walked into a difficult situation, inheriting a side that gained only one point in its prior eight matches, and he provided an immediate boost by leading our club to nine points in his first eight matches as manager.
“Though we were unable to maintain that pace thereafter, I am grateful for his effort. Claudio leaves Fulham as our friend and he will undoubtedly experience success again soon.”
Ranieri failed to recreate the magic he produced at Leicester and won just three of his 16 league matches in charge.
The 67-year-old said on the club’s website, www.fulhamfc.com: “I am obviously disappointed with the recent results and that we could not build on the good start we made following my appointment.
“I would like to thank the club, the players and the fans for the support they have given me during my time at the club.”
Parker, the former England midfielder who ended his playing career at Fulham, will take charge ahead of Sunday’s derby clash with Chelsea at Craven Cottage.
Khan said: “Scott’s immediate assignment is merely to help us stabilise, grow and rediscover ourselves as a football club. If Scott can answer that challenge, and our players respond to the opportunity, perhaps victories will follow in the months ahead.
“What’s most important at this moment, however, is to regroup in a smart and deliberate manner that will serve our long-term vision for sustainable success. If we’re able to do that and win some matches to make a stand late in the season, all the better.”
Liverpool defender Andy Robertson’s admission that playing alongside Virgil Van Dijk makes his job easier is evidence enough of why the Dutchman is the favourite to be crowned player of the year.
The world’s most expensive defender arguably leads the race for the accolade ahead of Manchester City trio Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and David Silva and his own 20-goal team-mate Mohamed Salah.
Since the Professional footballers’ Association brought in its awards in 1974 a defender has won the main prize only five times, with John Terry the last to do so 14 years ago.
But Van Dijk has been the key component in Liverpool’s title challenge, helping the Reds keep a league-leading 16 clean sheets this season, and Robertson offered some insight into why.
“If the season ended tonight, I would give him it personally,” said the Scotland captain.
“There’s still 10 games to go and somebody can step up from another team but Virgil can take it to a whole new level, I reckon.
“The attacking players are usually in the running because they take all the goals and the headlines but this season Virgil has been fantastic and he’s getting all the plaudits that he deserved.
“I don’t think he’ll be focusing on that, he’ll be focusing on the team. It’s always nice to get end-of-season awards and I’m sure he’ll be in the running. It will be close if he doesn’t win it.
“He’s so consistent as well. If he puts the performances as he has done, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t have that trophy.
“He makes my life easier, that’s for sure. To have him next to me it makes everything so much easier.
“When somebody is running at you and you know Virgil is inside – he’s rarely out of position, if ever.
“For me, he’s the best centre-back just now in the world. That’s the way he’s playing and the confidence he’s got – and he’s still young enough that he can get even better.”
While Van Dijk has dominated in his own penalty area, the 6ft 4ins defender has not been as effective in the opposition’s box.
He scored two headers in Wednesday’s 5-0 drubbing of Watford to make it three for the season, although he has still scored only four across 56 appearances since making his £75million move to Anfield in January 2018.
But while he is keeping them out at one end, his contribution at the other is not as vital.
“He works hard every day. Probably the only disappointment for him is that he hasn’t chipped in with enough goals,” added Robertson.
“For the size of him he’s a threat in both boxes and he scored two fantastic headers but more importantly defensively he was sound.
“Him and Joel Matip did fantastically to keep the clean sheet because they (Watford) hit us on the counter-attack a few times and those two mopped up – a tough task against Troy Deeney.
“Not many people bully him but I thought Virgil dominated him all game.”