Pep Guardiola says Manchester City have learned “to never give up” after returning to the top of the table for the first time since 16 December with a win at Everton.
A week ago City were five points adrift of Liverpool but took full advantage after Jurgen Klopp’s side could only manage back-to-back draws, moving ahead of the Reds on goal difference albeit having played one game more.
“A few days ago we could have been seven points behind. Now we are top of the league. That is the best advice, the lesson is never give up,” said Guardiola.
“That is a lesson for all athletes. Try to win the games, because life can change immediately.”
Defender Aymeric Laporte met David Silva’s free-kick to head home his fourth goal of the season, putting City in front just before half-time.
Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling both spurned decent opportunities to extend City’s lead after the break before Gabriel Jesus sealed victory in stoppage time.
It was far from a vintage display by City, who instead had to show their battling qualities to secure the points and regain the initiative in the title race.
Attention will now switch back to Liverpool, who can return to the summit with victory against Bournemouth on Saturday, 24 hours before City host Chelsea at Etihad Stadium.
Everton stay ninth after suffering a fourth defeat in five Premier League games at Goodison Park, though they should take some encouragement from a resilient display that was a notable improvement on their performances in recent weeks.
Just seven days ago, Manchester City faced the prospect of falling seven points behind leaders Liverpool after slipping to a fourth Premier League defeat of the season against Newcastle the previous evening.
Klopp’s side missed that opportunity after drawing with Leicester, and a further draw at West Ham on Monday opened the door for City to return to the top for the first time in almost seven weeks.
Guardiola’s side appeared determined to make an impression at Goodison Park, creating three good chances in the opening 20 minutes, with Leroy Sane and Laporte going close before Ilkay Gundogan hit the bar.
City faded after that bright opening but made the breakthrough as half-time approached. David Silva’s free-kick from the left-hand side of the penalty area was headed in by the unmarked Laporte for his first Premier League goal since August.
Aguero and Sterling missed further chances after the break to ensure a nervy finish, though Everton, despite all their effort, failed to truly test Ederson in the Manchester City goal.
Victory was sealed seconds from full-time – Jesus heading home at the second attempt after Jordan Pickford had done well to block his initial shot.
The result puts further pressure on Liverpool who, after a near-flawless campaign so far, have started to show signs of fallibility in recent weeks as they chase a first league title for 29 years.
Three successive league victories have also pushed Tottenham back in contention. Mauricio Pochettino’s side are just five points behind the top two and still have to visit Anfield and Etihad Stadium before the end of the season.
Tonight’s win means City have the initiative, but the dramatic change in fortunes over the past week suggests this is just the latest twist in an increasingly unpredictable title race.
Everton fans will have been aware that a win at Goodison Park would have been a huge favour to neighbours Liverpool.
But there were no signs of divided loyalties at kick-off with the home crowd fully behind their side, and they are likely to be encouraged by a hard-working performance, even if it ultimately resulted in another defeat.
Manager Marco Silva sprang a surprise by making five changes to his team as he looked for a response to Saturday’s defeat by Wolves.
These included dropping top scorers Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson to the bench and switching to a 4-3-3 formation.
He was rewarded with a more spirited display, with the returning Idrissa Gueye bringing some much needed energy back into the Everton midfield.
However, familiar failings cost the Toffees before the break.
Everton had conceded 18 goals from set-pieces in all competitions this season, more than any other Premier League side. And that soon became 19 when Laporte was left completely unmarked to meet David Silva’s free-kick and nod the champions in front on the stroke of half-time.
Silva brought on Richarlison, Sigurdsson and Cenk Tosun in an attempt to get back into the game, but their only shot on target was a long-range effort from Gueye that was comfortably held by Ederson.
The result means a tally of nine defeats in 15 games in all competitions for Silva’s side – an alarming slump in form after starting December in the top six.
Since their defeat at Liverpool on 2 December, the Toffees have collected just 11 points – only the Premier League’s bottom two, Huddersfield Town and Fulham, have earned fewer.
There were signs of improvement against the champions, but Silva knows he needs to turn performances into points quickly if Everton’s season is not to peter out completely before the clocks go forward.