Manchester City’s trip to Everton is now the key game in the Premier League title race, says Gary Neville – but the Sky Sports pundit insists there could yet be more twists to come.
Liverpool’s Super Sunday slip-up at home to Chelsea handed advantage back to Manuel Pellegrini’s men, whose trip to Goodison Park on Saturday Night Football is now – on paper – the last major hurdle in their bid to reclaim the league crown.
City need to win their final three fixtures to take the title but, even if City beat Everton, Neville reckons it would be foolish to dismiss the idea of Aston Villa or West Ham causing an upset - and says both Liverpool and Chelsea are still in contention.
“I think [Everton v City] is [the key game in the title race],” he said.
“City have got a huge opportunity, compared to a couple of weeks ago when I was thinking it had been the perfect storm for Liverpool.
"Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero were injured, Liverpool’s form had been sensational and Chelsea had qualified for the Champions League semi-finals, which gives them disruption around the period they were playing each other.
“But now City have got a game on Saturday where they’ll be thinking ‘if we win, we’ve almost got one hand on the trophy’.
“City are in the box seat - but not to the extent where they’re in control by any stretch of the imagination with the way the season’s been. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was another twist.
“Aston Villa are a bit of a stupid team at times, because they can go and win a game that surprises you, with Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor on the break. City could get complacent – and they’ve shown previously they can sometimes have silly results.
“I don’t think it’s over. It has turned and the momentum has swung but that’s not to say it can’t swing back into Liverpool’s favour, or even Chelsea’s, to be fair. I don’t rule either of them out.”
Neville says it is imperative Liverpool put their defeat to Chelsea behind them before their Monday Night Football trip to Crystal Palace so they are well-placed to pounce should City falter in their remaining games.
Even a draw for City against Everton, Villa or West Ham would put Liverpool’s destiny back in their own hands and Neville says the Reds' players must expect the unexpected, citing City’s dramatic final day clash with QPR in 2011, which saw them almost throw away the title before scoring a last-gasp winner.
“Liverpool need to somehow get themselves back into a good mental position because they’ll be down in the early part of this week,” he said.
“They’ll need to get themselves up for Monday - and it will pressurise Liverpool if City beat Everton. They’ll think ‘oh, we’ve blown it’. But they shouldn’t think that way.
“Two years ago, at the Etihad, QPR had City until the 94th minute. That could happen again, you never know - and this time they might not get the goal. They’ve still got Villa and West Ham to play – things can happen.
“At Chelsea, Jose Mourinho is detaching himself from the title, saying we’re almost third and ‘back in what?’, but if City were to drop points on Saturday and Liverpool lose on Monday night, Chelsea are back in it.”
Looking ahead to the Saturday Night Football clash, Neville rejected any suggestion Everton may try to play a part in ending Liverpool’s title hopes, but says injuries could prevent Roberto Martinez’s men from stopping a motivated City side.
He said: “There’ll be some conspiracy theories this week about Everton – do they want Liverpool to win the league? Will Everton throw it? Absolutely no chance!
“Everton have got problems this weekend with a few injuries but I think they’ll give a good account of themselves.
“They’ve got a good record against Man City and we’ve been at games in the last couple of years where City have really struggled there. It’s a tough game for City.
“But it wouldn’t surprise me if City won at Everton on Saturday, with Everton having their centre-backs and Gareth Barry missing.”