Chelsea v Liverpool: Top four comes first before any Premier League title aspirations for Jose Mourinho

The Chelsea manager claims that Liverpool's resurgence has forced the top sides to assure their place in the top four before turning towards a title charge

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The Independent Football

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho knows a revitalised Liverpool means Champions League qualification has to be the first priority for any side with pretensions to challenge for the Barclays Premier League title.

Three points separates leaders Arsenal, second-placed Manchester City, third-placed Chelsea and fourth-placed Liverpool ahead of the weekend's fixtures, with defending champions Manchester United eight points adrift in seventh.

Mourinho's men tackle Liverpool on Sunday bidding to show their title credentials, but the first priority is staying in top-four contention.

"This year the pressure will be not just to win the title, but also to get top four (and Champions League qualification)," Mourinho said.

"Man City are the big, big, big favourites. Liverpool are on holidays (from Europe for) one season: one week to prepare a match, play the match, one more week to prepare the next match. This is an advantage, an unbelievable advantage.

"And Man United, in spite of being a few points behind, are the reality of the last years.

"Arsenal are like us. For many years they've not been at the top of the league. Chelsea won the league a few years' ago, but in the last two leagues were 25 and 14 points off the leaders.

"For us and for Arsenal we have to try and do the best we can.

"We'll do our job, we'll try to finish top four. And if we manage to be in the top four, let's see what we can do (in terms of the title)."

Mourinho believes Liverpool are genuine contenders to lift their first championship in 24 years - and not just because of Luis Suarez.

The Uruguay striker has netted 19 goals in 13 Barclays Premier League appearances this season after serving a 10-match suspension for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April.

After three wins in the opening five games, Suarez's return has helped the Reds, last champions in 1989/90, into the top four.

"He didn't start the season, with suspension, and after that the numbers are fantastic," Mourinho said.

"When he came back, it was a big plus. But let's be fair: Liverpool did very well without him when he was suspended.

"I think they can (win the Premier League), because they are good, because Brendan (Rodgers) is good, because they have time to prepare the team tactically, because they are not involved in the heat of the knock-out situation in the Champions League or even Europa League."

Chelsea's best performances have come in key contests this season: against Bayern Munich and Manchester City, in particular.

Ivanovic moved on from the biting incident swiftly and hopes his team can rise to the occasion once more on Sunday.

"It's going to be a very important game for us, one of the deciding games this season," Ivanovic told Chelsea TV.

"We must be ready for the big fight. Our team likes to play big games and big challenges.

"I hope we're going to be ready."