London (AFP) – Manchester City must win their remaining five Premier League games to retain the title, insisted Pep Guardiola as his side took top spot from Liverpool with a 3-1 win at Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Raheem Sterling scored twice as City rarely looked troubled despite having failed to beat Palace in their last two meetings.
The English champions move a point ahead of Liverpool, who host Chelsea at Anfield later on Sunday, with five games remaining for both sides.
“We think Liverpool is able to win all the games,” said Guardiola. “In the Premier League the position is in our hands and we need to win all the games.
“There is no other chance if we want to make back-to-back (titles).”
Guardiola’s men had to see out a nervous finale at Selhurst Park to ramp up the pressure on Liverpool when Luka Milivojevic’s free-kick gave Palace hope of a dramatic comeback nine minutes from time.
Instead, City broke to seal the three points on the counter-attack when the outstanding Kevin de Bruyne teed up Gabriel Jesus to make it 3-1.
The trip to south London kicked off a massive week for City with Tottenham to visit the Etihad Stadium twice in the next six days for the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final and a vital Premier League clash with implications for both the title and top four race.
City must overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit against Spurs to progress to the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday. Yet, Guardiola’s starting line-up seemed stronger than the one he named in defeat to Mauricio Pochettino’s men in midweek.
And he claimed he will be just as interested in Tiger Woods’s bid for Masters glory at Augusta as what happens at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.
“Now is time to rest, take the bus. One ear for Liverpool-Chelsea, another one for the Masters, Tiger Woods and rest for next Wednesday,” added the Catalan coach.
Sterling should have opened the scoring on 11 minutes when after a patient build-up, David Silva got to the by-line and picked out the England international, who somehow sliced wide with an open goal at his mercy from close range.
After a similar sitter at Burnley last season, Guardiola quickly hooked Sterling in his frustration.
However, Sterling showed his maturity and why he is a contender for player of the year awards by redeeming himself in emphatic fashion just four minutes later.
A rare Palace foray forward left them exposed at the back and De Bruyne’s sensational through ball allowed Sterling to break clear before side-footing the ball high beyond Vicente Guaita.
“The one at Burnley was worse,” added Guardiola with a smile.
“Sometimes the most important action in our game is the next one. Sometimes you miss, but his reaction was positive. The pass from Kevin was outstanding, but the finishing from Sterling was incredible.”
Palace inflicted City’s only home league defeat of the season with a shock 3-2 victory in December thanks in part to a wonder strike from Andros Townsend.
But the hosts were camped in their own half and unable to spring a counter-attack for the pace of Townsend or Wilfried Zaha as City enjoyed over 75 percent possession in the first 45 minutes.
A similar pattern continued after the break and City finally struck the killer blow just after the hour mark when Leroy Sane’s driven cross was turned home at the back post by Sterling.
City had to withstand an aerial bombardment after Milivojevic’s free-kick from the edge of the box reduced the deficit to 2-1, but they made the game safe when substitute Jesus took his time before beating Guaita at his near post.
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