Throughout the first half of the 2019-20 Premier League season, the contrast between the performances of Liverpool and Manchester City has been stark.

Unbeaten and unbelievably consistent, Liverpool have been largely infallible as they have taken their form from last season's incredible title race between the two same sides to the next level. The sole blemish on the Reds' domestic season to this point is a 1-1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

City, meanwhile, have slogged through a campaign in which injuries have exposed a lack of depth at the back and left them to struggle against inferior opposition on several occasions.

Their defeat at Anfield, a stadium where City have not won since 2003, in November was no surprise given their desperate record at the home of the league leaders, but losses to Norwich City, United and Wolves - who became just the second team to complete a league double over Pep Guardiola's City - were marks on the ledger few anticipated.

The difference between Liverpool and a City side that look increasingly likely to be surrendering the title come May was laid bare at Molineux in a remarkable game.

Only 24 hours earlier, Liverpool, less than a week removed from their Club World Cup final win, breezed through what was seen as their toughest challenge of the season.

Jurgen Klopp's men came through a seemingly tricky trip to Leicester City in style, controlling the game from start to finish en route to an emphatic 4-0 success.

It was a display to silence any lingering doubters questioning whether Liverpool can finish the job from such a commanding position, and City's showing in the Midlands only served to further talk that this title race is becoming a procession for the Merseysiders.

Indeed, what City produced against Wolves was the antithesis of what Liverpool delivered at the King Power Stadium. Any hope of controlling the game was lost when Ederson raced outside the box and caught Diogo Jota as the Portuguese bore down on his goal. A straight red card forced a reshuffle in which Sergio Aguero was withdrawn to allow Claudio Bravo to slot in between the posts.

Stunningly, 10-man City did manage to assume control as a twice-taken Raheem Sterling penalty gave them the lead 25 minutes in, albeit he had to pounce to net on the rebound. WIth five minutes gone in the second half, the same man made it 2-0 at the end of a wonderfully worked break and City looked set to emerge unscathed and with a morale-boosting away win.

However, just five minutes later Wolves had hope. Adama Traore rifled in from the edge of the area to punish Sterling sloppily losing possession. Yet, even as Wolves pushed and pushed, City looked relatively comfortable, but their defensive frailties emerged once more and helped Wolves complete the turnaround.

The much-maligned Bravo proved dependable in goal, but he could do nothing about Wolves' equaliser. Benjamin Mendy, known more for his injuries and social media activity than any defensive capabilities at this point in his City career, was out-muscled by Traore on the right byline, and he teed up Raul Jimenez for a tap-in.

Matt Doherty completed the comeback as he played a one-two with Jimenez and was allowed to work his way past three City defenders before lashing a left-footed effort beyond Bravo's despairing dive.

Chelsea are the only other team to complete a Premier League double over Guardiola's City, doing so in his first season. City finished that campaign third, the position they occupy now as Guardiola's side sit a massive 14 points behind Liverpool.

Asked about that gap after the match, Guardiola was considered and stopped short of declaring the title race over, but deep down he will know overhauling Liverpool is a near-impossible task.

Whereas Liverpool look emboldened by running the champions so close last season, City appear exhausted by their astonishing exploits of the previous two terms. The frantic finale at Molineux likely ensured there will be no such grandstand finish in May and as 2019 draws to its conclusion, the title race is all over bar the shouting.

Bernardo Silva acknowledged Manchester City's 14-point gap to Premier League leaders Liverpool is a "really bad situation" after Friday's dramatic 3-2 defeat to Wolves.

Liverpool – who have a game in hand on City – thrashed Leicester City 4-0 on Thursday to increase their lead at the top and Pep Guardiola's men were unable to make a dent in that at Molineux.

Despite having Ederson sent off in the 12th minute, City found themselves two up early in the second half thanks to a Raheem Sterling brace.

But Adama Traore inspired Wolves, scoring from 25 yards before setting up Raul Jimenez's equaliser in the 82nd minute – picking the Mexican out after capitalising on a woeful Benjamin Mendy error.

Matt Doherty clinched the win following a clever interchange with Jimenez, and Silva accepts City's position is frustrating.

Speaking on Amazon Prime, he said: "It is a really bad situation for us. A frustrating first half of the season.

"Nobody expected us to be this far away from Liverpool at this halfway point. We have to continue now.

"We know that winning the title is very complicated. I wouldn't say impossible but very difficult."

Guardiola's post-match comments struck a similarly exasperated tone as he practically ruled out a title challenge.

"It's big [the gap behind Liverpool] for a long time now," he said. "It's not realistic to think about it. The same question for a long time, but the same answer."

Manchester City suffered another hammer blow in their bid to keep the Premier League title race alive with a 3-2 defeat to Wolves, making unwanted history for Pep Guardiola in the process.

City missed the chance to close the gap to leaders Liverpool to 11 points as Guardiola's side, reduced to 10 men following Ederson's dismissal after 12 minutes, threw away a 2-0 lead.

The defending champions had only 37.8 per cent of possession at Molineux – the lowest recorded by a Guardiola-led side in top-flight history.

Wolves' thrilling win also saw them become just the second team to do the league double over City since Guardiola took over in 2016, with Antonio Conte's Chelsea the only other outfit to achieve the feat in the Catalan's first season in charge.

Additionally, it was Wolves' first double over City since the 1999-2000 campaign, when both were in the second tier, and their first in the top tier since 1960-61.

With Wolves now serious contenders for a top-four finish, City have a fight on their hands just to finish as runners-up. 

Manchester City blew a two-goal lead at Wolves as Raul Jimenez and Matt Doherty netted late on at Molineux to secure a thrilling 3-2 home victory, with the 10-man champions' hopes of usurping runaway leaders Liverpool taking another huge blow.

City found themselves with an unlikely 2-0 lead just after half-time thanks to a Raheem Sterling brace, the lead remarkable given the 12th-minute dismissal of Ederson, but Wolves fought back spectacularly in the second half – Adama Traore playing a vital role.

Ederson's early sending off left City in a tricky position, though they initially responded well and went ahead through Sterling – the attacker tapping in a penalty rebound after Rui Patricio had saved two of his spot-kicks, the first ultimately being retaken due to encroachment.

Sterling doubled his tally with a lovely finish early in the second half and it looked as though it would be enough, but the lively Traore pulled one back before then setting up Jimenez in the latter stages following a woeful error from Benjamin Mendy.

There was still time for a stunning winner as Doherty finished off a fine move in style in the 89th minute to clinch the win, leaving City – who hit the crossbar through Sterling in stoppage time – 14 points adrift of Liverpool.

A A gripping first half looked to be going Wolves' way when Ederson was dismissed for catching Diogo Jota after rushing out of his box in the 12th minute, with Sergio Aguero's return from a month-long injury absence ending prematurely as he was hooked for replacement goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

But Riyad Mahrez was tripped by Leander Dendoncker in the opposing penalty area soon after and, following a lengthy VAR review, the spot-kick was given.

Sterling's subsequent effort was stopped by Patricio, only for VAR to penalise Wolves following encroachment from Conor Coady. The retake brought about another save, but this time the England forward converted the rebound.

City managed to reach half-time with their lead intact and Sterling got his second just after the interval, racing on to Kevin De Bruyne's throughball and beating Patricio with a clever chip.

But Sterling gave possession away a few minutes later and Traore capitalised, sending a 25-yard drive crashing in off the left-hand post.

Mendy was the next City player to make a costly error, trying to shepherd the ball out of play only to be out-muscled by Traore, who teed up Jimenez to steer home.

And Doherty completed the turnaround with a left-footed strike from the edge of the box following a clever interchange with Jimenez – Sterling's last-gasp free-kick causing a brief moment of worry as it clipped the bar.

Manchester City blew a two-goal lead at Wolves as Raul Jimenez and Matt Doherty netted late on at Molineux to secure a thrilling 3-2 home victory, with the 10-man champions' hopes of usurping runaway leaders Liverpool taking another huge blow.

City found themselves with an unlikely 2-0 lead just after half-time thanks to a Raheem Sterling brace, the lead remarkable given the 12th-minute dismissal of Ederson, but Wolves fought back spectacularly in the second half – Adama Traore playing a vital role.

Ederson's early sending off left City in a tricky position, though they initially responded well and went ahead through Sterling – the attacker tapping in a penalty rebound after Rui Patricio had saved two of his spot-kicks, the first ultimately being retaken due to encroachment.

Sterling doubled his tally with a lovely finish early in the second half and it looked as though it would be enough, but the lively Traore pulled one back before then setting up Jimenez in the latter stages following a woeful error from Benjamin Mendy.

There was still time for a stunning winner as Doherty finished off a fine move in style in the 89th minute to clinch the win, leaving City – who hit the crossbar through Sterling in stoppage time – 14 points adrift of Liverpool.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says it is not possible to expect Manchester United's youngsters to play "tippy-tappy" football in the manner of Manchester City at this stage of their development.

United produced one of their best displays of the season in Thursday's Premier League clash with Newcastle United, coming from a goal down to ease to a 4-1 victory at Old Trafford.

Anthony Martial scored twice, while Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford were also on target after Matty Longstaff had given the visitors a 17th-minute lead.

Solskjaer's side have often struggled to break down more defensive opposition this term, but the United boss believes the win over Newcastle shows their style can work.

"I think it's been said in no uncertain terms what type of team we are," he told reporters. "Supporters know what we expect and know when we are at our best. 

"We showed that on Thursday and, even though we went a goal down, heads didn't drop. We have to make it hard to play against us. 

"We can't play tippy-tappy football and can't, at this moment in time, play like City - only City can do that. 

"We have to show more energy, drive and urgency, plus selflessness in every single game. That's the way we have to play at the moment."

United's victory over Newcastle saw them return to winning ways after a 2-0 loss at strugglers Watford last weekend.

The Red Devils are now four points behind the top four and Solskjaer remains confident of finishing in a Champions League spot.

"We should get into the top four without waiting for the final game against Leicester," he said. "But it may go down to that game, who knows? 

"I've said about this team that we may be challenging for a lot more next year. We're young but I except a lot from this team this year."

Two days after beating Newcastle, United take on Burnley in their next Premier League outing and they then travel to Arsenal four days later.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp this week described the scheduling of the festive fixtures as "criminal" and Solskjaer agrees something needs to be changed.

"You are traditionalists in this country so I can't see it changing, but it should," Solskjaer said.

"I don't think it's fair on the boys at all. It's not fair to be expected to perform at the best of your ability, mentally and physically, 48 hours after you last played. 

"But we are probably in the best position to perform on Saturday because the game [against Newcastle] was over after 45 minutes and we are a young side.

"We have a chance against Burnley to perform at our best level. When you're 23, which I think was our average age against Newcastle, it makes it easier to recover than Burnley.

"But it's not fair, especially when there was a game against Watford just gone, a game on New Year's Day - two games in three days."

Pep Guardiola tried in vain to persuade Vincent Kompany to spend one more season with Manchester City.

Kompany ended an 11-year association with the club by captaining them to an unprecedented domestic treble in England last season.

The 33-year-old Belgium defender netted an unforgettable long-range effort to seal a pivotal 1-0 win over Leicester City in what would prove to be his final competitive appearance at the Etihad Stadium, with Guardiola's men going on to pip Liverpool to the Premier League title by a point.

It has been a different story this time around, with City falling way off the pace set by the Reds.

Their defence has been shaky in the injury absence of Aymeric Laporte and, if Guardiola had his way, Kompany would still be an option for him at centre-back rather than player-manager of Anderlecht.

"I tried to convince Vincent a lot to stay one more year with us," he said ahead of Friday's trip to Wolves.

"When he decided in the last few weeks [of last season], I said, 'No, no, no – you are not going to leave me. No, no, no'. But he leaves me.

"When those guys take a decision it is already taken."

 

Guardiola made reference to Kompany when discussing City's preparations for life after two other long-serving club greats.

David Silva has already announced this season will be his last in Manchester, while Sergio Aguero is out of contract in 2021 and has frequently expressed a desire to end his career back in Argentina with boyhood club Independiente.

Aguero is City's all-time top scorer and famously struck in stoppage time to snatch their first league title for 44 years on the final day of the 2011-12 – a moment atop many of this week's end-of-decade lists.

"I think Sergio is irreplaceable," Guardiola said. "We have an incredible striker in Gabriel [Jesus] and maybe another one will come when Sergio is leaving. But he is irreplaceable.

"The most important moment of this club, more important than hopefully one day when this club wins the Champions League, is when Sergio scores that goal against Queens Park Rangers to win the first Premier League after I don’t know how many years.

"That moment is much better than four titles in one season or whatever. And he was the guy."

Aguero struggled initially to meet Guardiola's demands of his centre-forward after the former Barcelona boss arrived in 2016, but the 31-year-old has arguably hit new career heights in winning his manager's considerable admiration.

"I've never seen a bigger star like him [who is] so humble, a funny guy – it is a joy to work with him," Guardiola said.

"How he accepts sometimes my decisions when it's not worked for him. A big star like him [does not usually] accept that.

"I worked with other stars who believed that they are more stars than Sergio and they were not. And it was more difficult to handle them and to be with them.

"It is not easy to find a guy with his status, his personality, what he has done in his football career, with this humility.

"In the box he is an incredible player. But I was with other guys who were not bad. I remember Ronaldo – the Brazilian guy, I remember Romario, I remember [Samuel] Eto'o. Eto'o was one of the most incredible strikers I'd ever seen in my life. He could do everything.

"Sergio is one of them, of course he is one of them. Okay, [Lionel] Messi is a little bit higher than all of them, but Sergio is one of them."

While Guardiola acknowledges City will have to enter the transfer market when Aguero calls time on his Premier League career, he feels the likes of Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva mean a playmaking replacement for David Silva is probably not required.

"Maybe I'll change my mind, it depends on the next six months, but I have other priorities and I don't think I am going to buy because we have many there," he added.

"Bernardo can play there, Phil is there, we have Gundogan, we have Kevin. In this position I think we are not going to do anything."

Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson insists his rivalry with Liverpool counterpart Alisson only exists on the pitch, despite competing with each other on multiple fronts.

The pair have battled it out for domestic and European honours during their time in English football, while also vying for the number one jersey with Brazil.

Ederson has played second fiddle to Alisson on the international stage, but the 26-year-old believes their intense on-field competition can only be considered a positive.

"I think it's a good sign for all the goalkeepers in Brazil and for the country," he is quoted as saying by several British newspapers.

"You look at Europe and you find two great goalkeepers playing at high level in two of the best clubs.

"I have a good relationship, not only with Alisson, but also with [Roberto] Firmino and Fabinho.

"When we have a day off in the same day, we sometimes gather, we have a barbecue.

"It's difficult with our routine and the amount of games to have the same day off, but we have done it few times before. Our rivalry is only on the pitch."

Ederson claimed bragging rights when City won a clean sweep of domestic trophies last season, including the Premier League title after finishing a point ahead of Liverpool.

The reigning champions are 11 points worse off than the Reds after playing a game more this time around, but Ederson is refusing to give up on a third straight top-flight crown.

"We know the gap is big, but we need to carry on with our job," he said. "We need to keep giving our best on the pitch, trying to win game by game. 

"We know it's going to be very difficult. Liverpool are having a great season, but in football anything can happen. We need to be ready for any outcome."

Mino Raiola holds all the cards when it comes to Manchester United's transfer plans.

United are interested in Salzburg sensation Erling Haaland, while Paul Pogba wants to reportedly leave Old Trafford.

With that in mind, the Red Devils may be forced to pick between the two.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND IN, POGBA OUT?

Manchester United are worried signing Salzburg striker Erling Haaland may force Paul Pogba out of the club, according to the Daily Star. 

United are interest in-demand sensation Haaland, who has also been linked to Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig

Haaland is represented by Mino Raiola, who is also the agent of United star Pogba – previously linked to former club Juve and LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

United fear Raiola could throw a spanner in the works as doubts remain over Pogba's future in Manchester.

 

ROUND-UP

- Premier League champions Manchester City have identified Villarreal's Pau Torres and Benfica centre-back Ruben Dias as possible defensive reinforcements in January, reports The Telegraph.

- Express Sport says Chelsea are unwilling to meet Dortmund's £100million (€117m) valuation of star Jadon Sancho, who has also been linked to United, Liverpool and Madrid. Chelsea are believed to be keeping tabs on Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha and Leipzig striker Timo Werner.

Arsenal pair Mesut Ozil and Shkodran Mustafi could leave Arsenal in January, reports Football London. Turkish giants Fenerbahce have emerged as a possible destination for Ozil.

Rangers have made contact with out-of-favour Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud over a possible move to Glasgow, according to L'Equipe.  Coming off contract at the end of the season, Giroud has also been linked to Inter.

Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta revealed he wanted to bring Granit Xhaka to Manchester City in 2016 as the new boss talked up the former Gunners captain's future at Emirates Stadium.

Xhaka has been linked with a move away from Arsenal following a turbulent season in London, which saw the midfielder stripped of the armband under Unai Emery after reacting angrily to his substitution during a Premier League clash against Crystal Palace in October.

After a falling out with some of Arsenal's fans, former Borussia Monchengladbach star Xhaka has found himself back in the fold amid links to Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin.

Arteta, though, has no intention of parting with Xhaka, who was a potential transfer target for Pep Guardiola and City prior to the Switzerland international's move to Arsenal three years ago.

"When I was going from Arsenal to City to start coaching and we were looking in that position, he was one of the players on my list," said Arteta, who left City for Arsenal last week. "This is how much I liked him. I was happy when Arsenal signed him because I thought he was going to be a terrific player.

"He has done some really good things and now he has got stuck in a very difficult situation that, I think, was growing and growing and growing and one day it exploded.

"But I have been amazed as well by how this relationship is starting to come back a little bit and I think the fans have been very, very positive about him. Obviously it is difficult to change completely the scenario from where he was to a magnificent one. But I think we are in the right direction with him."

"I told him how much I like him and what I expect from him," Arteta added. "How important he is for the team. I am here to help him, I want him to feel that we are right behind him. Not just myself but the whole club.

"If we can get the people in the right way as well, the fans with him, I think it will be helpful for the team, which is where it matters."

Arteta will oversee his first match in charge since replacing Emery when Arsenal travel to Bournemouth on Boxing Day.

Gareth Southgate would be "disappointed" if he was not linked to Premier League vacancies but the England boss still has objectives he wants to achieve with the Three Lions.

England reached a first World Cup semi-final since Italia '90 at last year's tournament in Russia, while they also made the last four of the inaugural Nations League.

Southgate then oversaw England's qualification for Euro 2020 and his side are among the favourites for European Championship glory.

In a question and answer session with Sky Sports, Southgate – who was in the past linked with the Manchester United job - was asked if a return to Premier League management is of interest.

For now, though, Southgate's immediate focus remains on the Three Lions.

"I am completely fulfilled in the role, it's a privilege to be the manager of England. Sometimes in life we are always looking at what's coming next and not relishing how fortunate we are to be in the position that we are in," he said.

"I feel like our team can still get better, there are objectives that we still want to achieve. In the future? I know realistically that I'm not going to be England manager in 10 years' time - I hope to be in six months' time. 

"Somewhere in between that, there is going to be something else. I'd be disappointed if I wasn't linked with some of those jobs if I'm honest. 

"I don't worry about it because my phone has not been ringing. I think that is because people know that I am committed to the job that I am in."

Being national team manager throws up plenty of challenges and Southgate had to deal with an internal bust-up between Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez during the last international break, with the duo having clashed in Manchester City's defeat to Liverpool prior to the squad meeting up.

Southgate opted to drop Sterling for the clash against Montenegro before restoring the City forward for their final Euro 2020 qualifier with Kosovo.

The decision to publicly confirm Sterling was dropped drew criticism in some quarters but Southgate feels the squad is more united for having dealt with the incident as a group.

"I think there are situations as a leader, where whatever decision you make will be criticised. There are some situations where there isn't a perfect solution and you all have to just work things out as a group," he added.

"Time needs to pass. I have to make a decision that is right for the team first and foremost, and also support both of the players. There are so many people involved in a situation like that - everybody is going to have an opinion. Those that have managed or coached before understand the complexities of any situation like that.

"The most important thing is the team and the performance of the team. We were able to focus internally on the football very quickly and we got the results we needed and both boys got back on the pitch.

"They definitely came closer together and Raheem's message when Joe got an adverse reaction at Wembley was a really powerful one. I think that bought some closure on the episode.

"We are dealing with young men who are going to be emotional at times. Part of the strength of some of our players is that edge that they have. Through that adversity we are stronger for it."

Pep Guardiola fears racism will never be eradicated from football, though says clubs, players, managers and authorities must continue to fight the problem.

The latest in a long line of examples of racism in the game occurred on Sunday, when Antonio Rudiger alleged he was abused during Chelsea's 2-0 Premier League win at Tottenham.

A Manchester City supporter was arrested after he was seen to be racially abusing Manchester United players this month.

Guardiola is concerned the issue will ever be stamped out in football or society in general, but it must be tackled on a daily basis.

"I don't think so. We have to fight but it will take time, a lot of time, to eradicate it," he told a news conference.

"I think it was a problem which has happened for decades, centuries. But now it’s visualised more because the media is more up front and close to the problem.

"I think it's happened a long time, we just have to fight again and again. The little kids, in the schools, on the streets."

Asked if he would support his players walking off the pitch should they receive racist abuse, Guardiola said: "Of course my players support the initiative and what happened you have to battle day by day.

"It's not about one club or one person. It's about the football world, one vision. 

"It's a battle you have to fight in the schools, especially, in the families at home to try to make a better society in the future.

"It's a battle day by day. All of the initiatives we are going to support and have been supportive."

 

 

Pep Guardiola insists it is too early for him to be thinking about signing another contract with Manchester City.

Guardiola's current deal expires at the end of the 2020-21 season, though reports – which Guardiola has denied – have claimed there is a clause which would allow him to leave at the end of the current campaign.

City have won the Premier League twice in his three full seasons at the club, but sit 11 points behind leaders Liverpool in third spot.

Guardiola claimed he is happy at the club, though stated talk of a new deal is premature.

"I have been here already four seasons at the end of this year and at the end of next year it will be five because I want to be here until then," Guardiola told a news conference.

"So it's a long time. Look what happens, clubs sack their managers week by week. I have answered this many times. I am incredibly good here.

"To sign a contract I need to see how this works and if I deserve it. The level, we increased a lot in the last years and the expectations are higher, we have to see if we can handle it.

"It’s not just my decision, the club didn't talk. Now it's a little bit of a break with the family for Christmas, then we prepare for Wolves, then we can think about the future."

Guardiola lost his assistant Mikel Arteta last week, with the Spaniard being appointed as Arsenal's head coach.

"I've said many times lately, he's now the manager of Arsenal," Guardiola said when asked how City had adapted without his compatriot.

"We have prepared the last two games without him, tried to readjust how we’ve worked for the last three-and-a-half years, try to adjust the people to do the job he has been doing and work a little bit harder, that's all."

City play Wolves on Friday, before welcoming Sheffield United to the Etihad Stadium less than 48 hours later, much to Guardiola's frustration.

"I don't know exactly [what the minimum time between games should be] but what I know is less than 48 hours is not the perfect time," Guardiola said.

"But all of the time in this country, Christmas time is like this. So we adapt, no problem."

Kevin De Bruyne encouraged Manchester City to stay true to Pep Guardiola's principles as they seek to disrupt Liverpool's path to the Premier League title.

Champions City beat second-placed Leicester City 3-1 on Saturday to close back to within 11 points of leaders Liverpool, who have a game in hand following their successful trip to the Club World Cup.

Guardiola thanked City's players for "following" him after the come-from-behind victory and midfielder De Bruyne urged his team-mates to uphold the standards of the past two title-winning campaigns.

"We need to go game by game," De Bruyne said. "We dropped some points along the way, but I think the reaction of the team has always been really good, the way we play has always been the same and we have played good football.

"This is the way to go forward. This is the way we have played four seasons with Pep Guardiola and this is not going to change. We work hard and we dedicate a lot to playing well and if this is the way we play, people will enjoy it.

"We just try to win game by game and at the end of the season we will see what happens.

"If we don't win it we don't win it, but we work and play hard every day and this is the way to go forward."

De Bruyne shone against Leicester after starring in a 3-0 victory over Arsenal the previous weekend and will be central to City's hopes of causing anxiety for Liverpool.

"I think the first thing I do is try to set an example for the rest of my team-mates by working hard, giving a lot of energy and fighting for the team," he said.

"Afterwards, the talent and the dedication can make the difference. This is the way to go forward. The first thing we need to do is to work as a team and afterwards we have enough quality to make the difference."

Riyad Mahrez, who scored the equaliser against his former employers, praised De Bruyne's input.

"He is very good," the winger said. "He has a lot of quality so he helps us a lot. It's great to have a player like him in the team.

"Every game he contributes to the team, so I'm happy to have him with us."

Pep Guardiola has called on Manchester City's supporters to back his side when they are enduring tough moments.

Premier League champions City were back somewhere close to their brilliant best on Saturday as Kevin De Bruyne inspired a 3-1 comeback win against Leicester City – Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus on target either side of Ilkay Gundogan's first-half penalty.

However, they remain third in the table behind Leicester and 11 points shy of runaway leaders Liverpool having played a game more.

It is a situation somewhat different to the one enjoyed at the Etihad Stadium over the course of back-to-back title wins and a cumulative total of 198 points.

The Leicester game was the first of four home fixtures in a two-week period for City, who also face Manchester United in a two-legged EFL Cup semi-final next month as Real Madrid await on the horizon in the Champions League.

For these battles and more, Guardiola feels his players will sometimes need a 12th man – a privilege their trophy-winning exploits have earned.

"I had a feeling always [the fans] are there when we play good, but I want more when we struggle a little bit like at 0-1 [against Leicester]. We need them," he said, having cajoled his supporters in an animated fashion after Mahrez equalised against his old employers.

"The players deserve it [for] what they have done in this period. I need my fans when we concede a goal and we're playing incredibly well.

"We need them. Always we cannot play 90 minutes and excel. In the first 10 minutes we were not good, we did not play simple, we lost some balls. We didn't start to connect again with the game after half-time.

"But, yes, in the bad moments, Mum and Dad are always with the kids in the bad moments, not in the good ones. We need them when the opponent is good and we are struggling to become a better team.

"I think the spectators were incredible but we played so good. And when that happens our fans always are behind us."

Although buoyed by the quality and resilience of a fabulous response to Jamie Vardy's opening goal, Guardiola feels it is foolhardy to talk about closing the gap to any extent that might trouble freshly minted world champions Liverpool.

"I think it's unrealistic for a team after 16 games and 17 victories. to think we are going to chase them," he said.

"We have to try to win our games, to be there, to secure qualification for the Champions League next season.

"And after, in football, you never know. If they drop one game or two games and we win and win and win, I don't know what will happen.

"When one team loses one game in the last 53 or 54 I am not optimistic to think they are going to lose four or five games in the next 11 or 12. They are an incredibly strong team.

"So relax, try to play like [against Leicester] and we will see at the end what will happen."

City are back in action at Wolves on December 27, with the Premier League's festive calendar putting them back in action less than 48 hours later at home to Sheffield United.

"I wrote a letter to the Premier League to say thank you," Guardiola added. "We're going to the fridge after Wolves to [get ready for] Sheffield."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.