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Jurgen Klopp not ruling out Man City in title race as Pep Guardiola backs Aston Villa to be contenders

Pep Guardiola says Aston Villa are contenders for the Premier League title after they moved above Man City into third with Wednesday's 1-0 win; City are winless in four games and six points behind leaders Arsenal; Liverpool are two points off the top after beating Sheffield United 2-0

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Manchester City

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp says it would be the "biggest joke in the history of football" to write off Manchester City in the title race.

City were overpowered at Aston Villa as Unai Emery's side beat them 1-0 to move above the champions into third. City are now winless in four league games and six points off leaders Arsenal.

Klopp, whose side closed the gap on Arsenal to two points with a win at Sheffield United, feels it "makes no sense" to rush to a judgement on City at this stage in the season.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Liverpool

"If somebody would write City off that would be the biggest joke in the history of football," the Liverpool boss said after Wednesday's win at Bramall Lane.

"Arsenal are fighting and had a similar experience we had [late win vs Fulham]. It feels really good but anyway you have to start the next game from 0-0.

"Aston Villa is incredible. United is there, don't play yet maybe exactly the football whoever wants - the media or whatever - but they have points like crazy.

Man City's slump in stats

  • Manchester City attempted just two shots in this at Aston Villa, with both of those coming in the 11th minute. It’s the fewest shots ever attempted by a Pep Guardiola team in a match within Europe’s big-five leagues.
  • The 22 shots from Aston Villa was the joint-most faced by a Guardiola side in the same period (Wednesday being 535th such game).
  • The champions are just three points ahead of Man Utd in the Premier League table.
  • City are winless in their last four Premier League matches (D3 L1), equalling their longest run without a league victory under Guardiola (also four games in March-April 2017).

"Chelsea, I'm not sure if they're coming. The league is incredibly strong, you need to be lucky to get through difficult moments, with injuries especially. So I have no clue [who will win the title].

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"Probably. It was the last years, always two. I'm not interested in that, so long as we're around there. But it's so difficult and intense. Ask me again in April."

Villa in the title race, says Pep

City boss Pep Guardiola believes Aston Villa must be considered among the challengers for the Premier League title after they outclassed his treble winners at Villa Park.

Asked if Emery's side have what it takes to go the distance, Guardiola said: "Yeah, definitely.

"For the way they are playing, when you are there and see the physicality, the tempo, the speed, the bench, the organisation from Unai Emery, the set pieces and high pressing in medium block, how incredible they defend the back four, the goalkeeper. Absolutely."

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Villa's win in stats

  • Aston Villa have won each of their last 14 home games in the Premier League, equalling a club record for consecutive home victories in league competition (previously done in 1931 and 1903).
  • This was Aston Villa’s first league victory over Manchester City since September 2013 (3-2 under Paul Lambert), ending a run of 13 consecutive league meetings without a victory against the champions(D2 L11).
  • Emery picked up his first ever victory against Guardiola, on what was his 14th attempt at doing so.
  • Villa won possession in the final third 13 times against City, the most ever by an opposition team during Guardiola's time in charge.

Emery disagrees with Guardiola, who he beat for the first time on Wednesday night at the 14th attempt.

"We are not contenders," he said after the game. "We are now at game 15, we are going to play game 16 against Arsenal. We are happy to be third. To keep it is going to be very difficult. While we are there, we are trying to keep it."

Pressed on why he thinks Villa are not in the title race, Emery added: "There are other teams that are contenders at the beginning. We are at game 15. There are still lots of matches to play.

"If we are keeping it progressing during the season, playing matches and winning like we are doing then maybe we can become contenders. We need more time. We can believe, but we are not contenders."

Analysis: Pressure mounting on City

Manchester City were punished for allowing the game to drift against Liverpool rather than killing the contest. Against Tottenham it was a similar story as they spurned golden chances to double their advantage when 2-1 up. This was something completely different.

Aston Villa were better from start to finish. Erling Haaland had two chances. Of course he did. But they came in the 11th minute and were City's only attempts in the game. Never has a Pep Guardiola team had fewer shots. Not City. Not Barcelona. Not Bayern Munich.

At the other end, they allowed their opponent to have 22 shots - another league high during Guardiola's 535-game career as a top-flight manager. Although allowed is a loose term. They were unable to prevent a physical, technical and committed Villa from controlling it.

Villa won possession 13 times in the final third of the pitch - a record against Guardiola's City in the Premier League. There were mitigating circumstances in the sense that a midfield of John Stones and Rico Lewis is far from the strongest that he has fielded.

Rodri was badly missed. City are 43 unbeaten with him in the team, their last five defeats coming in his absence. But at least he will return. They must wait a little longer for Kevin De Bruyne, while Ilkay Gundogan has departed. Can City control like they used to?

After four games without a win, that is the question. City will still be odds-on to win every game from now through to early March with the exception of a daunting trip to Newcastle but having slipped off the pace, they might just need to now. Pressure is mounting.
Adam Bate

Watch Aston Villa vs Arsenal on Saturday Night Football, live on Sky Sports from 5pm; kick-off 5.30pm.

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