Liverpool and Chelsea must go through the rest of the Premier League season unbeaten if they are to catch leaders Manchester City, according to Glen Johnson.
Chelsea and Liverpool go head-to-head in a mouth-watering clash at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and Johnson says neither of his former clubs can afford to lose if they want to overhaul City.
Speaking to BoyleSports football, Johnson said: “To give a team like City eight or nine points, it’s going to take some doing. We’ve seen stranger things happen for sure but City don’t show any signs of slowing down do they?
“The injuries and the illnesses that the other teams are struggling with, City have players that can come in and they’re still a world-class team. Their squad is unbelievable, they’re the team that can cope best with knockbacks. It’s just so hard to stop.
“Stranger things have happened but if another team is going to catch them, they will have to go unbeaten for the rest of the season.”
When asked if this weekend’s match was effectively a title race eliminator, Johnson added: “It seems like a silly thing to say because it’s so early in the season but I think it is.
“I can’t see City losing four or five games between now and the end of the season. So yes, I do think that one of these teams is going to have to win.”
Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel is faced with a growing injury crisis in defence after Reece James and Andreas Christensen were forced off in the draw with Brighton.
Meanwhile, doubts remain over the long-term futures of a number of key defenders at Stamford Bridge.
Christensen, Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta are all out of contract at the end of the season and are able to sign pre-contract agreements with foreign clubs next month when the transfer window opens.
Rudiger and Christensen have held contract negotiations with Chelsea but are yet to sign new deals and Johnson says his former club must try to convince the pair to remain at Stamford Bridge, rather than looking for potential replacements next month.
“For me, the easiest option is to keep the guys that they’ve got,” added Johnson.
“Christensen and certainly Rudiger has come on under Tuchel. You’ve got two good players there and it’s not easy to just go and buy someone.
“You’ve got two players there that know the club, know the league – it can’t be that hard to work out a contract renewal can it? The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”
Liverpool, meanwhile, could be looking to strengthen in January, with a number of their key players set to leave for the Africa Cup of Nations after the match at Stamford Bridge.
Mohamed Salah [Egypt], Sadio Mane [Senegal] and Naby Keita [Guinea] have all been called up for the tournament, which will be held from January 9 until February 6, and Johnson says Liverpool must look to sign reinforcements when the transfer window opens.
“Liverpool’s XI can compete with anybody but their squad is light,” added the former right-back, who made 200 appearances for the Reds during a six-year spell at Anfield.
“We all know how they do their business, the certain formulas that they look for in players. They don’t just go and look for anybody. But I do think that they need to strengthen.
“If the timing works in their favour then I think they might only lose Mo and Mane for only two games, so that wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“But they are their two main threats and they can’t afford to lose them at all if they’re going to catch City.”