Pep Guardiola felt Manchester City passed the latest test of their title credentials with flying colours in the 3-1 win at Crystal Palace.
Selhurst Park has been a graveyard for title campaigns in the recent past, notably when Liverpool’s wheels came off in 2014 and City suffered a similar fate a year later.
But Raheem Sterling’s double and a late third from Gabriel Jesus kept City’s bid to retain their crown firmly on track.
“I’m so pleased,” said Guardiola. “The amount of games we have had – Brighton, and three days later the Champions League, and now here, and the way we played for 75 or 80 minutes was really good.
“The Premier League position is in our hands and we want to win all the games.
“The players showed me they would do it and I didn’t have any doubts about that.
“In two seasons we’ve got 83 points with five games left. Incredible numbers and it shows how consistent we are.”
Sterling should have fired them ahead early on only to sidefoot wide from six yards out after David Silva had cut the ball back from the byline.
But the England forward made no mistake when presented with his next opportunity, in the 15th minute, after Kevin De Bruyne’s through-ball dissected the Palace defence.
Sterling rolled in a second just after the hour mark from Leroy Sane’s cross to take his tally for the season to 21.
Luka Milivojevic gave Palace hope with a free-kick nine minutes from time, but substitute Jesus wrapped a ninth straight win for City in stoppage time.
“The most important action in our game is the next one,” added Guardiola.
“Sometimes you miss, you have to forget it and so Raheem made an incredible finish from an outstanding pass from Kevin. It’s important how you react. That’s why he helped us win the game.”
City host Tottenham on Wednesday looking to overturn the first-leg deficit in their Champions League quarter-final and keep their quadruple dream alive.
Palace boss Roy Hodgson has no doubt they can pull off an unprecedented four-trophy haul.
“I think they look in very good shape,” he said. “They came here with a fully-fit squad and they paid us the respect of putting a very strong team out. That doesn’t make the task any easier.
“I can only say what everyone else knows. They are a very good team and will take some beating in any competition they play.
“You do your very best, but it’s difficult to get the balance right, to make sure you don’t get torn apart tactically, but to put them under enough pressure to concern them.
“You can complain about various aspects of your own play, but the bottom line is, if they hadn’t scored the goals in the way they did, they’d have scored them another way.”
Liverpool face Chelsea on Sunday in a game that could define this season’s Premier League title race as they remain locked in a neck-and-neck battle with Man City.
Chelsea are the toughest opponent Jurgen Klopp’s side have to face in their title run-in.
Here’s a look at the tactics Klopp could use in this pivotal clash. Check out our analysis of Chelsea’s tactics here.
FABINHO TO MAN-MARK HAZARD
Fabinho’s greatest asset is the way he can control the game in midfield, with his passing and vision. But in a game where Liverpool are likely to have less possession, the Brazilian may have a different role on Sunday.
Someone who has been trusted at centre-back and fullback earlier in his career can be relied upon for his defensive ability. Perhaps Klopp could ask Fabinho to put those skills to use against Eden Hazard?
Hazard has struggled to shrug off the attentions of a man-marker before, most famously on two separate occasions against Manchester United, so Klopp would know it’s a strategy that works.
Stopping Hazard is the key to stopping Chelsea given the Belgian’s current form. It would be a tough task for Fabinho, but potentially, a match-winning one.
LIVERPOOL PRESS COULD KNOCK JORGINHO OFF HIS STRIDE
The other key to knocking Chelsea off their stride is to limit the influence of midfielder Jorginho. Plenty of teams this season have prevented the Blues from being at their best by paying close attention to the Italian as he tries to dictate the course of the game.
Roberto Firmino usually leads the Liverpool press with aplomb, and when he isn’t haranguing Chelsea’s defenders he’ll no doubt be looking to put Jorginho under pressure. With some help from Liverpool’s midfielders – Jordan Henderson’s advanced role will bring him in close proximity to his Chelsea counterpart – Firmino could help stop the Blues’ attacks at source.
Between that, and paying close attention to Hazard, Liverpool could have a winning formula defensively – while their attackers run riot when they get the chance.
Chelsea travel to Liverpool on Sunday with a chance to pick up crucial points in the Premier League‘s top four race – as well as having a huge influence in the destination of this season’s title, as they could derail their rivals’ trophy hopes.
Manager Maurizio Sarri will be looking to keep Liverpool’s famous counter-attack at bay while maximising his side’s attacking prowess in this pivotal game.
Here’s a look at the tactics that could help the Italian achieve that goal. Check out our tactical preview of Liverpool’s gameplan as well.
KANTE’S ENERGY WILL PROVIDE DEFENSIVE COVER
Chelsea have faced plenty of difficulty this season against exactly the sort of tactics Liverpool will employ: high-pressing, counter-attacking teams have prospered by soaking up the pressure of the Blues’ possession before striking quickly when the opportunity arises.
Sarri won’t change his fundamental system in a game of this magnitude, but within the 4-3-3, possession-heavy set-up, there are tweaks he can make to have Chelsea prepared for Liverpool’s counter-attack.
N’Golo Kante’s ability to cover ground and mop up defensively will be crucial. Though he plays on the right of Sarri’s three-man midfield, expect him to provide cover against Mohamed Salah down Chelsea’s left whenever he’s needed – and of course, he’ll have his hands full with Sadio Mane as well.
Kante is used to putting in match-winning performances in big games – this could be another.
MATCH HAZARD UP AGAINST ALEXANDER-ARNOLD
Allowing Eden Hazard the freedom to roam within Chelsea’s system has been the strategy that’s brought both the player and the team success when executed well this season. Though there’s no reason for Sarri to change that, perhaps both he and Hazard will spot an opportunity in this particular game.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has had an excellent season, but he also hasn’t had to face a player of Hazard’s quality too often. And there have been times in the past where his defensive ability has come under scrutiny in match-ups like this.
Though Hazard loves to drift all across the pitch, looking to isolate himself against the Liverpool right-back might give him the best chance to prosper in this game. Liverpool will clog up the middle in order to reduce his effectiveness. Stretching them by targeting Alexander-Arnold would be the best way to counter.