Pep Guardiola is no longer willing to rule out the prospect of Manchester City winning the Premier League title.
His team moved up to second and within eight points of leaders Chelsea with a 2-0 win at Bournemouth on Monday night, despite in-form forward Gabriel Jesus being forced off with a foot injury after just 14 minutes.
City have 13 league fixtures to catch Antonio Conte’s men, including one at Stamford Bridge in April, and after appearing to concede the title in January when they fell 10 points behind, Guardiola spoke with greater optimism at the Vitality Stadium.
The 46-year-old said: “They have to lose three games, and we have to win all our games. You know how difficult that is in the Premier League. So we have to go game by game, narrow the gap.
“We’re so happy. We are second now; the gap between second and sixth is nothing, but we’re so happy to be second and in this position, and to make the difference a little narrower from Chelsea.”
Guardiola is hopeful Jesus, who will have a scan on Tuesday, has not suffered a serious injury and praised the forward’s replacement Sergio Aguero for his impact against Bournemouth.
Aguero, whose future has been the subject of intense speculation, forced the second-half own goal from Tyrone Mings that followed Raheem Sterling’s opener.
Guardiola said of the Argentina striker: “I’m happy for him. For how he played, how he tried, and I thought he scored.
“He’s an important player. He didn’t play the last few games because the three guys (Jesus, Sterling and Leroy Sane) were amazing. That’s why they’d played.
“Now it’s the (FA) Cup, then the Champions League, and the Premier League is still there. That’s why we need a contribution from Sergio. He’s so important for us.”
Bournemouth lost both Simon Francis and Jack Wilshere to first-half injuries as they continued their winless start to 2017.
The Cherries also had a first-half goal from Joshua King disallowed for a foul on John Stones when they were 1-0 down, but their manager Eddie Howe agreed referee Neil Swarbrick’s decision was correct.
“I thought that goal should have stood at the time, but there’s a clear pull there,” said the 39-year-old.
“Jack is just feeling his ankle. I don’t think there’s a major injury there. He just felt he couldn’t move as freely as he wanted to and had a pain in his ankle, so we took him off.
“Simon is feeling his hamstring again, similar pain to the first time. Any injuries we get to established first-team players are going to be difficult to manage.”