AFP/Manchester, United Kingdom
Yaya Toure says making up the ground on Chelsea to win the Premier League title is not beyond his club Manchester City if they retain belief in themselves as they did in 2014.
The 33-year-old Ivory Coast midfielder — who has battled his way back into favour with City manager Pep Guardiola after a public spat with his agent and the Spanish coach earlier this season — concedes the 11 point difference will be tough to overhaul.
However, a fifth successive win at home to Stoke — they have not lost in nine in all competitions — today would at least keep some pressure on Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side. Yet their previous two league title wins both involved late runs to overtake teams with seemingly unassailable leads — in 2012 overhauling city rivals Manchester United and 2014 when they did the same to Liverpool. City trailed Liverpool by nine points with five games left — albeit with two matches in hand on the Merseysiders — and recovered to win the league by two points.
“We just hope. The Premier League this year is going to be very demanding and very difficult,” said Toure. “When you see Chelsea play, they play with confidence and they are strong. We expect them to slip up, maybe a couple of times.
“But they have good momentum and they also play fewer games than nearly all of the other teams in the top four because they are not in Europe. That is a big advantage for them. But we just have to believe, because we did that in 2014. Yeah, we have to hope it’s possible again.”
The loss of striker Gabriel Jesus to a broken metatarsal in February might have stalled City’s progress, but the good news for Guardiola is Sergio Aguero has taken the opportunity to reassert himself. Aguero was dropped in January following the arrival of Jesus from Brazilian club Palmeiras, and there was much speculation that the Argentina international may soon be leaving the club.
Guardiola, for his part, has always said he wanted Aguero to stay; he has been rewarded by the forward’s recent form. His goal in Sunday’s 2-0 victory at bottom club Sunderland was his fifth in three matches.
Under the guidance of former City manager Mark Hughes, Stoke have become remarkably consistent, finishing ninth for each of the last three seasons, and on course to make that four.
They have, however, failed to beat any side currently in the top half of the table this season, and have developed a worrying recent habit of losing heavily to the top teams. They were particularly poor in a 4-0 defeat at Tottenham in their last away game on February 26, but responded well to beat struggling Middlesbrough 2-0 last Saturday. In-form forward Marko Arnautovic is doubtful because of illness. Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri, though, is available after missing five matches with a calf problem. Goalkeeper Jack Butland has been cleared to return to full training almost a year after breaking his ankle while playing for England, but will not face City, and may not be risked before the start of next season.
“It’s huge for Jack but there’s still a big step to be taken for him,” said Hughes. “Before the end of the season, if we think it’s right and Jack hasn’t had any complications, then we’d look to get him some game time. It’s whether or not we take that opportunity. We might decide to make sure we get him right for pre-season.”
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