Manchester City made several representations to the Premier League to complain about the Christmas fixture list and Pep Guardiola joked his players would need to recover in a fridge if they are to play two games in 48 hours.
City visit Wolves for an evening kick-off on December 27 before hosting in-form Sheffield United on December 29. While everyone else in the division plays on Boxing Day, they and Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are in action the following day.
The match was selected for coverage by Amazon Prime, who have begun a new broadcasting deal in the United Kingdom this season, with the Premier League keen to give the internet streaming service, a potential source of huge revenues in the future, some plum games.
And Guardiola said sarcastically: “I wrote a letter to the Premier League to say thank you and we are going to the fridge after Wolves to get ready for Sheffield United. The night of [December] 24 is off, the morning of the 25 off. Then the 26th training and the 27th Nuno’s team.”
Kevin de Bruyne illustrated the difficulties City face. “The first game is in five or six days, so that's okay,” he said. “The other one – I don't know what to do. We'll see how everybody feels after 48 hours. Normally it would be impossible to play, but it's the schedule and we just have to find a way to manage. Obviously we're going to have to change a few players.”
Before City visit Molineux, they can watch the meeting of the top two teams with Guardiola cheering on Leicester, who his team beat 3-1 on Saturday.
But even if Brendan Rodgers’ side can spring an upset, he feels it is improbable that City can catch the new Club World Cup champions Liverpool, who have been on an extraordinary run of form.
“When a team has 16 victories from 17, it’s unrealistic to think we are going to chase them,” he added. “We have to try to win our games, secure Champions League for next season and then you never know, no? When one team lose one game in the last 56 I’m not optimistic that they are going to lose four or five in 10 or 11 games because they are incredibly strong.”
Rodgers left the Etihad Stadium awestruck by the talents of De Bruyne, who followed an astonishing performance at Arsenal with a similarly dominant display.
“Kevin is unbelievable,” he said. “He is such a world-class player and with world class, they will find the space. You can block up spaces and be tight and organised but the world-class players will find the space. That is the first time I have come up against him in an actual game so to see it live … it is great, I love talent and he is a great talent.”
De Bruyne set up Gabriel Jesus’ goal, taking him 10 assists for the season, half way to equalling Thierry Henry’s Premier League record. The Belgian has also created the most chances in the division and the most in open play. He tends to flourish in the inside-right channel and combined especially profitably with the former Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez as he found room either side of Rodgers’ defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi.
Rodgers felt he was unstoppable. “You have a plan but it is very, very difficult,” he admitted. “He executes it in every single game he plays, it doesn’t matter what team he is playing against, he plays it. So that is what I am saying about world class.
"David Silva is the same. My experiences against that level of talent, you try to block up space and anticipate where they go but their inbuilt brain for football finds the space and they have the quality to hurt you. He is playing at such a high level. You can always be better at trying to deny him the space but eventually I think those types of players find it.”