Manchester City's titanic title showdown with Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday has emerged as a do-or-die occasion for the Citizens title aspirations according to Blues manager Pep Guardiola.
The Premier League champions were worthy winners in a 3-1 victory at Southampton which closed the gap at the top to seven points and meant City ended a miserable run of form following successive defeats over the Christmas period to Crystal Palace and Leicester City.
Guardiola's side also returned to second in the table leapfrogging Tottenham Hotspur who were beaten at Wembley on Saturday in a shock 3-1 defeat to Wolves.
It sets up the Thursday epic encounter perfectly as a victory over Liverpool in Manchester will close the gap at the top to four points while defeat could open the Reds already lengthy lead at the top to 10 points which would certainly pull the curtains to the Citizens title credentials according to Guardiola.
"We knew it that with the position of Liverpool, if we drop points then it is over, it is finished," the City boss said in his post-match press conference.
"It would be almost impossible. Of course, they are going to drop points but not too many. If you want to be there as far as possible until the end we have to remember what happened last season and this as well – apart from the last few days."
Liverpool best team in the land according to Guardiola
City displayed the ruthlessness of champions in the south coast with two quickfire goals before half-time that unforgivingly put the Saints to bed just as they were beginning to influence the match.
After losing three of their last four league outings the Citizens 15th win of the season at St Mary's put them above Spurs in second and following Guardiola's decision for the team having to 'refresh their principles' the 47-year-old manager was delighted by the way his players assembled a stronghold on the game.
It may have appeared another routine win for the current league holders but the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss believes that the divisions only unbeaten team Liverpool will oppose a serious threat to City, labelling Jürgen Klopp's juggernauts as the best in the world at this current moment.
"Sometimes we need to refresh our principles, sometimes we need defeats to realise but I had that feeling that the first round of games is amazing, it’s good in terms of results and playing, because it’s not easy after 100 points," Guardiola added.
"We won a lot of games but unfortunately we lost two and we have a rival who at the moment is the best team in Europe, or in the world.
"That’s why it’s a challenge for us next Thursday, to try and win and sustain this position as far as possible to arrive at the end of the season fighting for the title.
"We’re not here to send a message, Liverpool know what they have to do, we know what we have to do next Thursday.
"I know the distance is big, seven points, especially because they’re so solid and consistent, but we’re at home, hopefully, our extra help from our people at the Etihad can help, they can support us. Not just for the game, but these players deserve it.
"What they have done in the last 14 or 15 months, how they defend this club, is incredible, it’s massive."