Vincent Kompany has revealed how he has been playing through the pain barrier to try to lead Manchester City towards the Premier League title.
The central defender injured a knee in training before City's 3-2 defeat at Liverpool on 13 April. Kompany has since started the side's subsequent four matches, with City taking 10 of the available 12 points. Only in Saturday's 3-2 win at Everton did the discomfort ease a little.
"I've really had some tough weeks," the club captain said. "I had to manage the pain and only been able to play, not train too much. At Everton I was feeling much better. I felt like I played with a plaster around my knee the last weeks. Now I feel fine. Physically I'm strong again."
Kompany was to blame for two of Liverpool's goals in the defeat at Anfield, although he refused to cite the injury as the reason for the mistakes. "I'm not making excuses because from the moment I'm on the field I should be judged like the other players who are fit," he said.
"A bad game is a bad game – whether you're injured or not. I've obviously suffered a lot for that moment but it's all relative. I knew I could play the games if I managed the pain. I've done my best this season, so I could not do more."
The win at Everton kept the destination of the title in City's hands. If they beat Aston Villa on Wednesday evening and West Ham United on Sunday, both at the Etihad Stadium, they will take the crown. Indeed Liverpool's draw with Crystal Palace on Monday night means they can even afford to draw one of them.
Kompany believes that City's recent run of results is evidence of the players' psychological resilience. "I think you need a lot of mental strength to be in a position like ours," he said. "When we looked at the match against Everton, we thought 'OK, they do not want to play hard because of Liverpool, their neighbours', but we did not notice that. Their men gave everything. It was very hard the whole game. Especially after the second goal, then it became exciting again, so it was a deserved victory. But it makes the next two games, obviously, still very, very interesting."
Yaya Touré, moreover, urged his team-mates to continue to be focused. "Both Aston Villa and West Ham are sharp and will come to just enjoy the games but we have a league to play for. I hope we complete the job but it depends how sharp we are, how we prepare mentally and physically. We definitely expect to win it – as a team at the top you always expect to win.
"f we don't win, it would be a massive disappointment for us, for the fans and for the club as well. Our target was always to win something but for us the League Cup is not enough. The Premier League was always our target, so now we need to be at our optimum levels when Aston Villa come to our stadium."
Touré was substituted at Goodison but he said this was a precaution because of the muscle injury suffered at Liverpool. "It was very important I came off," he said. "It has been difficult for me in a short space of time to recover from the injury and prepare physically. If you are not fully prepared, it is very tough because you have to be at 100% for these games and coming back is always difficult, especially at the end of the season. But I feel good."
Sergio Agüero, who after scoring the first-half equaliser was also substituted in that Everton game, is another who is focussed on the final two matches and is confident he can have an input. "Thank you for your concern. I left just as a precaution," he tweeted afterwards . "Fortunately I'm fine, happy for the goal, the win and keeping our dream alive."