A month ago, Manchester City’s trip to Everton on Saturday looked like a game which would just be one more step on Pep Guardiola’s side’s inevitable march to the Premier League title.
But a series of results in recent weeks makes the game not only a vital one for City, whose lead over Liverpool has been cut to just three points, but also has left Everton in desperate need of points in their battle for top flight survival.
New manager Frank Lampard has no illusions about the difficulty of the task his team face at Goodison Park after defeat at Southampton last week dragged the Toffees further into the struggle at the foot of the table.
“There is no magic wand to change things instantly and you need to work and focus every day. You’re only as good as how you work and prepare. Until this point, I think we’ve got that right,” said the former Chelsea manager, who ended his career in England with a brief spell at City.
“But a game like we’ve had against Southampton is a reminder of why we’re in the position we’re in,” he said.
City’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last week opened the door to Liverpool in the title race but then Spurs’ defeat to Burnley on Wednesday closed the gap significantly in the relegation battle.
While Norwich, Watford and Burnley remain in the bottom three, there are now four teams hovering nervously above the relegation zone — including Everton who along with Newcastle United are just two points above 18th placed Burnley.
Liverpool’s 6-0 thrashing of Leeds United on Wednesday not only allowed them to close in on City but also left the Yorkshire club just three points above the drop zone but having played two games more than Burnley.
Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, who has won praise for his attacking approach, was frank in his assessment of his team’s position.
“We are fighting relegation. Of course, it worries me, how is it not going to?” he said after the mauling at Anfield.
Just four points separate Burnley, whose upturn in form saw them win at Brighton on Saturday, from 14th placed Brentford, with the London club’s recent slump in form seeing them picking up just one point from their last seven games.
The Bees face Newcastle United on Saturday with the North East club having climbed out of the bottom three since the appointment of Eddie Howe as manager and the arrival of fresh recruits funded by their new Saudi owners.