September feels too early to be talking about crucial periods in the Premier League – but it certainly seems like Manchester City have one coming up.
Over nine days from Saturday, they play Chelsea and Liverpool away, with a trip to Paris to face Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and co in between.
While there is some wriggle room in their Champions League group after an opening-round win over RB Leipzig, the pressure is on domestically, with City facing the prospect of being as many as nine points off the top of the Premier League summit should they lose to both Chelsea and Liverpool.
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Man City fixtures
Opponent Venue Date
Chelsea Away Saturday 25 September
Paris St-Germain Away Tuesday 28 September
Liverpool Away Sunday 3 October
Those unbeaten title rivals have already shown they have the quality, form and momentum to cause City real problems in those fixtures and Saturday’s lacklustre draw to Southampton at the Etihad has ramped up the importance of that Premier League head to head.
Then there is the added difficulty of Pep Guardiola’s own selection problems.
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With Aymeric Laporte, John Stones, Rodri, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ilkay Gundogan all in the treatment room, the City boss turned to a number of academy players for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup win over Wycombe.
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Guardiola also took the chance to rest fit key figures such as Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo but he will need his first-choice players ready for action come this weekend.
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These fitness concerns come after City began the season knowingly undercooked. They had no fewer than 17 first-team players involved in the Euros and Copa America, and they were the last Premier League side to return to pre-season training as a result.
Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that they suffered defeats to Leicester, in the Community Shield, and Tottenham, on the opening day of the Premier League season.
Emphatic wins over Norwich and Arsenal got them up and running and Leicester were edged out at the King Power before a 6-3 thriller with RB Leipzig started City’s Champions League campaign on the right foot.
But the frustrating draw with Saints raised eyebrows. Should City fail to take maximum points from their visits to Stamford Bridge and Anfield, they will find themselves in a similar situation to last season, when they made a well-documented slow start.
After eight games last season they were 11th in the Premier League table and went on to win just five of their first 12 fixtures.
What followed was remarkable: a 21-game winning streak, which included 15 straight victories in the Premier League. With their rivals faltering, it was a run of form which propelled City towards the Premier League title.
Such an exploit is unlikely to be repeated again and the increased strength of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United means City will have far sterner competition at the top end of the table.
That makes this triple header – as early as it is – a key moment in the campaign.
Follow live coverage of Chelsea vs Manchester City, PSG vs Manchester City, and Liverpool vs Manchester City across the Sky Sports website and App.
You can also watch Liverpool vs Manchester City live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Sunday October 3; kick-off 4.30pm.
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Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith, as well as football writers Ben Grounds and Adam Bate, to look ahead to the Premier League weekend’s stando