Manuel Pellegrini can protest all he wants about Manchester City’s refusal to give up on their Premier League title, but the man in charge of the champion’s biggest rivals has called it right with his assessment of where the land now lies at the top of the table.
After City had succumbed to a shock defeat at relegation contenders Burnley, Manchester United’s commanding 3-0 win over Tottenham reduced arrears to just four points on the second-place Citizens.
The two clubs’ opposing fortunes at the weekend – which left the champions six points adrift of Chelsea having played a game more – led Louis van Gaal to draw a frank conclusion certain to rile his opposite number at the Etihad.
“Whether they (Man City) want that or don’t want that, that is the position,” said Van Gaal. “It is a rat race. They are in it.”
Although City’s 1/66 price to remain in the Champions League spots speaks for itself, recent results suggests the emphasis may now shift to glancing over their shoulders rather than up towards the summit.
Arsenal, one point behind in third, are 1/11 for the top four and the Gunners traditionally finish with a flourish under Arsene Wenger, while Man United’s win over Spurs could easily represent a turning point for the 1/2 shots in fourth.
Everything clicked for Van Gaal at Old Trafford in a 4-3-3 system where Michael Carrick’s new-found midfield role was pivotal, alongside the ever-improving Marouane Fellaini – previously the scapegoat for David Moyes’ transfer-market failures.
Suddenly the pressure is right on 13/10 chances Liverpool to take all three points at Swansea in their Monday night kick-off if they are to keep pace in Van Gaal’s rat race.
A loss would equal disaster for Brendan Rodgers’ men who would then go into their Anfield clash against United running the risk of staring at an eight-point gap after their next two fixtures.
Meanwhile, things are looking increasingly difficult for dual 8/1 pokes Spurs and Southampton.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Lilywhites have now lost their last two games against direct top-four rivals and the nature of defeat at Old Trafford will take some recovering from.
Already six adrift of United, Saints will have to go on a concerted run of victories to apply the necessary pressure.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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