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Gary Neville exclusive: Manchester United legend tells Sporting Life the pressure of chasing your first title is horrible

Gary Neville talks exclusively to Sporting Life
Gary Neville talks exclusively to Sporting Life

Smiles, laughter, parades, popping of champagne and open top bus tours - those are the iconic images we associate with winning a Premier League time.

However, the reality of getting your hands on your first title is very different, according to Gary Neville, who describes it as a 'horrible' experience and that anyone claiming they are thriving on the pressure of winning their debut title 'is a liar'.

As Liverpool relinquished top spot after losing a seven-point lead, the subject of pressure and the club finally feeling the heat has been thrown at the players.

Following their stuttering draws with Leicester City and West Ham on Monday, Jurgen Klopp's side returned to their impressive ways in their 3-0 win over Bournemouth and it must be remembered they still have a game in hand on Manchester City.

However, the questions are still there. Are they feeling the pressure? Are they mentally weak? How will they cope with throwing away such a lead?

Those sharp questions have inevitably wound up players and fans alike and there seems a clear cohesive message from everyone connected with Anfield that this last week has been just 'a blip' and to 'keep calm and carry on'.

Neville, an eight-time Premier League champion, understands the Liverpool fans' frustrations at such angled media questions and accusations, but knows it also has to be expected.

Sergio Aguero celebrates with Raheem Sterling for Manchester City
Sergio Aguero celebrates with Raheem Sterling As Man City destroyed Chelsea

"The fans are right to be annoyed at calls that Liverpool are already bottling it and are feeling the pressure. However that is the question they will keep facing," said Neville.

"When you haven't won a title and you drop points then you face questions about pressure. When you've won a title or two and drop points then you face questions about complacency. It is how it works.

"However it is a fair question. Liverpool were still underdogs up to Christmas and they got through January, but now it has become real for them and you can see it has had an affect.

"Post match on Monday following the draw at West Ham, the players bit at questions about pressure, it clearly rattled them and it showed. Those questions do annoy you, but never show they annoy you - that's a complete no, no in a title race. Just bat them off and move on. Don't give anyone any excuse to think the pressure is getting to you."

The former England assistant manager admits he is loving the fact that the title race has now truly come alive and is so open and is excited to see how the next few months unfold.

However, he admits he can enjoy such a tight fight for Premier League glory now as a pundit, but that wasn't the case as a player as he went through the same experiences Liverpool's men are facing now.

Mohamed Salah scores for Liverpool against Bournemouth
Mohamed Salah scored as Liverpool got back on track against Bournemouth

"Any player or team that hasn't won a title yet and say they are thriving on the pressure of a title race is a liar. You cannot enjoy it or thrive on it as a player, I know.

"Those first few seasons at Manchester United were horrible. When we lost out to Blackburn and Arsenal it was just awful. The pressure is huge, you felt your legs become heavier in games, every pass was more tense. You felt yourself playing safer and not as free. The only way through it is experience. You have to crack your first one and then it slowly gets better.

"It was only when we had won three or four titles that you could relax a little bit and feel like you were thriving on that pressure. That's because you knew what to expect and how to handle it. You could also enjoy looking at your rivals and seeing how and when they might crack because they hadn't gone through it before, unlike us."

For Neville, now is about examining performances, not just results, as a sign of who will claim the title eventually. While City have shined again this week, Liverpool have gone into their shells.

All is obviously not lost after victory over Bournemonth, but Liverpool now face Manchester United and Everton in two of their next three games.

For City they face West Ham, Bournemouth and Watford.

"February is now the month in the season that is so crucial. You get through Christmas and January and then February starts to see things really happen.

"It is a month when you cannot win anything, but you can certainly lose trophies. This is the month when you can be knocked out of cups and lose big ground in the league.

"What is key now is not just winning but how you are performing. If you drop points but actually played well still then you shouldn't worry and we've seen that with City. Typically when they lose they've still played well, it is just that the opposition keeper has had a worldie; and a striker has hit a stunner in.

"When Liverpool have dropped points recently it is due to them not being quite as good as they were. Recently they've started to allow their opponents chances on goal, and then letting in avoidable goals - that was not the case for the majority of the campaign.

"That's what makes me still go for City in this title race, performance levels currently.

"If Liverpool are to win the title then I think they need to be three to five points ahead at the top with three to five games left of the season, then they could do it. If they are just behind or even level with City in that run in then I don't think they have a chance."


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