Liverpool vs Manchester City: Winning at Anfield will be more important than Wembley, says Pablo Zabaleta

City title challenge needs another Liverpool victory 

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The Independent Football

There was no lavish celebration of Manchester City’s fifth trophy in five years following Sunday’s Capital One Cup final victory against Liverpool at Wembley, just a quick dash to the airport for a flight back to Manchester.

Having endured 35 years before ending their long wait for silverware with the FA Cup in 2011, City are by no means becoming blasé about sticking trophies in their cabinet, but business is business and Manuel Pellegrini and his players have plenty of the unfinished variety to negotiate between now and the end of the season.

With one foot planted firmly in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where a favourable draw could open up a straightforward route to the last four, City also lie nine points adrift of Premier League leaders Leicester, with a game in hand, as they prepare for the run-in

Conversely, a resurgent Manchester United could move level with City in fourth place if results go in their favour on Wednesday night, so Pellegrini and his players are looking in the rear view mirror as they attempt to put their foot down for the final straight.

Their penalty shoot-out win against Liverpool will ease the fatigue of 120 minutes at Wembley, however, and City defender Pablo Zabaleta believes Sunday’s trophy can provide a springboard for a sustained assault on the two big trophies left to win.

“We have confidence, of course, and trust,” Zabaleta said. “Another cup is gone, so now we have time enough to be focused on the Premier League and the Champions League.

“There are still 36 points to play for in the Premier League, which is a lot of games, starting at Liverpool on Wednesday.

“We were in this situation before, a few years ago when we won the league, when we were about eight points behind the leaders, and we still have a game in hand. It’s time now to focus on the  Premier League and try to win on Wednesday.”

Whether City can find the consistency that has eluded them so far this season will ultimately decide their fate in the title race.

Pellegrini’s team, having started the campaign with five successive league wins, travel to Anfield tomorrow with just one victory in four Premier League games, including home defeats to title rivals Leicester and Tottenham.

The Manchester derby against United at the Etihad on 20 March may prove fatal to their chances unless City rediscover their domestic form quickly, but Zabaleta expects an upturn, with Pellegrini’s squad beginning to clear its injury problems.

“We know how important it is now to recover all the players and for most of them to be fit for that period because we have a lot of big games coming up now until the end,” Zabaleta said. “We need to try and win on Wednesday and get back on track again.

“But we are Manchester City, we have talent and big players to try to recover those points that probably we lost against Leicester and Spurs.

“They won their games at the weekend and they are two good teams. We cannot forget Arsenal and after United won on Sunday, they’re just three points behind, so it’s going to be very tough because everything is very tight at the top of the table. It just depends on us.

“We just need to be sure that we are confident, we have belief enough and try to keep the momentum going with the last two games. We know we have a strong team to win games. That’s it.”

With City and Liverpool set to resume hostilities tomorrow just 72 hours after Yaya Touré’s spot-kick sealed matters at Wembley, Zabaleta admits that a league fixture  at the one English stadium the club have still to win at under Abu Dhabi ownership is now a bigger game than Sunday’s final.

“Of course it is, because if we don’t win on Wednesday, it will be tough,” he said. “We will miss a great chance to try to reduce the gap between the leaders and us.

“It’s the crucial game for this team. It’s amazing how every three days you play in different competitions so you just need to switch off, switch on the day after, just be ready for the game, in a short time.

“We have only two days to recover the players with the extra time, obviously that  is not an excuse because  it’s the same thing for Liverpool, but it’s going to be a tough game.”