Pep Guardiola believes Liverpool can already “smell” the Premier League title and claimed Manchester City have become victims of their own success.
Liverpool moved an extraordinary 17 points clear of City with victory over Watford on Saturday and Guardiola says the extraordinary pace being set by the European champions is a reaction to his team rewriting the Premier League rulebook.
Leicester City, in second place, were held at home by Norwich City, putting them 10 points behind the leaders.
City can go 14 points behind Liverpool by beating Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday but Guardiola recognises that Jurgen Klopp’s side have now raised the bar themselves after watching the champions amass an unprecedented 198 points over their previous two title winning campaigns.
“When we arrived here, the standard was 85 points to win it. Now you have to reach almost 100 points to win the Premier League,” the City manager said. “That is why we helped Liverpool to make this step by [through] incredible, top players and now that is the level you have to reach.
“All the teams that are behind Liverpool, we know we have to make 100 points. Before it didn’t happen and we were the reason why.
“He [Klopp] has maintained last season’s standards [when Liverpool finished second with 97 points] for this season.
“This is their second season at this level. It helps they didn’t win a title since a long time ago. You smell it. I felt it in my first season [with City] when we took 78 points [and finished third].
“There were just two or three players in the locker room who had won the Premier League. The rest hadn’t won it and we wanted to feel this experience and lift the trophy.”
Guardiola added: “I think maintaining 100 points for three or four years ... I didn’t want to think about it too much in the beginning of the season but I thought we would be able to do it again.
“For 10 years, no one won back to back title and then we did it by winning 14 games in a row so that is why when people say we are not good, I cannot forget what this team has done. But sometimes in a process, there are problems or periods in the season when you struggle a little bit.
“To stay at that level for three, four or five years is so difficult. We are struggling a little bit so we have to try to challenge and lift this situation.”
Guardiola says Liverpool are so far ahead that “there is not one thought on my mind about them” and does not believe his rivals’ festive fixture congestion, which will include negotiating the Club World Cup in Doha this month, will have any bearing on their title bid.
But he claims Liverpool’s blistering pursuit of a first title for 30 years is a reality check that will focus minds at City and benefit them in the longer term.
“The situation we are in is going to help us in the future,” he said. “As a team, as a club, it is going to help us in the future. I would have preferred to be closer to Liverpool but that is going to help us - all the club, the organisation.
“Maybe we think after four titles in one season, maybe we believe something we are not and the reality of sport is to make you go again and again and again. Sometimes you have to live it. Unfortunately now we are in the position we are in.
“We have to overcome that situation. We have to prove how we are as a team and you have to evaluate if you are good enough as a manager to continue that, are the players good enough to try it again next season so at the end it is so simple.
“It is not about the performance. I would be really, really concerned if our game was not there. I would worry.”