MANCHESTER: Manchester City may trail Liverpool by two points in the early season running for the Premier League title, but opportunity knocks for the champions in a two-month stretch beginning with Saturday’s visit of Brighton to the Etihad.
The visit of the Seagulls is the first of eight Premier League games Pep Guardiola’s men face against sides outside of the traditional “top six” before a daunting trip to Liverpool on Nov. 9.
That run could see City travel to Anfield with a comfortable lead in the title race, with Liverpool set to face Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham in the meantime.
The form book over City’s last two title-winning seasons certainly suggests Guardiola will be expecting his team to collect maximum points over the next couple of months.
Including comfortable wins already this season on the road against West Ham and Bournemouth — by a combined 8-1 scoreline — since the start of the 2017-18 season, City have won 50 of the 58 games they have played against the 14 clubs outwith the top six in the Premier League.
Liverpool, the only side to have started the new season with three wins out of three, will hope that City finally start to falter.
But with everyone apart from the two northwest giants showing early-season inconsistency, the fact remains that the title may be reduced to a two-horse race by the time the clubs meet in November.
After Brighton, City face home games against struggling Watford, Wolves, Aston Villa and Southampton and travel to Norwich, Everton and Crystal Palace.
And Guardiola insists he can only concentrate on maintaining the standards he has set in his second and third seasons in charge.
“I’m not going to think about many points we need to be champions, or if Liverpool’s going to win or if we’re going to win,” he said.
“I know the opponent we have in Liverpool and all the other teams, especially the contenders, but what we are looking for, from the first day I came here, is to try to play in the way we have played.
“I think we dignify this sport, we dignify the people who pay to come to watch us and see how honest we are — to play for the people. And, more than anything, I would like — when I finish my period here — to leave that. “The first season, but especially the last two seasons, we were an incredible team.”
Key to City’s success has been the strength in depth available to Guardiola and he could hand first starts of the season to new signing Joao Cancelo and Fernandinho, who has fallen down the pecking order since Rodrigo’s arrival.
Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Benjamin Mendy miss out through injury, while John Stones remains a doubt.