By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - With champions Liverpool on the ropes Manchester City have the chance to knock Juergen Klopp's side effectively out of the Premier League title race at Anfield on Sunday.
City are beginning to look unstoppable having won their last nine Premier League games while Liverpool's midweek defeat by Brighton and Hove Albion has left them seven points adrift.
Should City win on Sunday they would move 10 points clear of Liverpool having also played one game fewer and it is hard to imagine Klopp's spluttering side being able to bridge that gap.
"I'm manager of Liverpool and you always ask -- as we were champions last year -- and I have to say 'oh my God, we want to be champions, yes we want it'", Klopp said as he looked ahead to the clash with City in the aftermath of defeat by Brighton.
"But you need the games for it and you need the performances for it. And we don't have them. That's the truth as well."
Klopp, whose side are in danger of losing three successive league games at home having gone unbeaten in the previous 68, stopped short of saying defeat by City would make it impossible to win the title, but the sentiment was clear.
"We have to fight for other things. We fight for three points," the German, who hopes forward Sadio Mane will have recovered from injury and keeper Alisson from illness in time to face a rampant City, said.
A run of only two wins in their last eight league games has not only weakened Liverpool's grip on the title, they could find themselves in a scrap just to finish in the top four, something unthinkable last season when they were in a league of their own.
They are four points behind second-placed Manchester United, who take on sixth-placed Everton on Saturday, while Leicester City are in third place, two points ahead of Liverpool.
Leicester travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday.
West Ham United have also emerged as unlikely challengers for a top-four finish. New signing Jesse Lingard scored twice in their 3-1 win at Aston Villa on Wednesday, a result that lifted the Hammers into fifth place and a win at Fulham on Saturday would see them leapfrog Liverpool.
"Did you say top four there? I nearly choked there when you said that!" was the reaction of West Ham manager David Moyes when asked about his side's chances of finishing among the Champions League qualification places.
"Let's hope we can put ourselves in a position that after the next couple of league games it might give us a chance of capitalising on the other teams who have European football."
Arsenal will hope to bounce back from their midweek defeat by Wolves, when they ended with nine men after two red cards, as they travel to Aston Villa for Saturday's early kickoff.
Few would bet against the current bottom three going down at the end of the season as they are well adrift of safety.
Bottom club Sheffield United are showing signs of life, however, having won three of their last five games including this week's 2-1 win at second-from-bottom West Brom.
Survival still looks like it would need a minor miracle as they are 11 points behind 17th-placed Burnley but a home victory over Chelsea on Sunday would fuel hope of a great escape.
"There's some ridiculous challenges ahead of us that we should enjoy," manager Chris Wilder said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)