Pep Guardiola admitted Manchester City have little margin for error in the title race after labouring to a 3-0 win at bottom side Hull.
City could ill afford to drop points at the KCOM Stadium after Premier League leaders Chelsea won their 12th game in succession earlier on Boxing Day.
They eventually prevailed in a drab game by scoring three times in the final 18 minutes against the spirited Tigers.
The result lifted City back to second in the table, but they still trail Chelsea by seven points ahead of a trip to another title rival, Liverpool, at the weekend.
“Sometimes you play before (Chelsea), sometimes later – but it doesn’t matter when one team has won 12 in a row. It’s like a final for us if you want to be there until the end of the season.”
Guardiola believes Chelsea and Liverpool have an advantage because of their lack of European football this season, but is determined to make a strong charge. The former Barcelona boss said:
“Liverpool went so close one year because they had one game a week and last year, for Leicester, it happened the same.
“This time Chelsea and Liverpool are the ones. We have played seven more than them – and important games like the Champions League – which is why it will be tough.
“But football is unpredictable. We have to do absolutely everything to be there. Sometimes when you believe something is done it isn’t.
“What we have to do is win every game and analyse and see if that is enough.”
It was almost a change of tone from Guardiola, who has previously pointed out the importance of playing his way, rather than stressing the need for results.
He also criticised his players for not being incisive enough. City dominated possession
but did not break through until Yaya Toure struck a 72nd-minute penalty. Kelechi Iheanacho added a second soon after and Curtis Davies turned into his own net in injury time.
Guardiola said: “We forgot in the first half that the goal was there, especially the wingers. It was pass pass pass.
“But in the second (Raheem) Sterling got to the byline, he created the penalty and created the third goal. The winger has to be aggressive.
“In the first bit of second half we were lucky because Bacary (Sagna) saved a goal, but the second goal helped us a lot and in the end we finished with another counter-attack.
“I am happy to win again, especially away here in Hull. I enjoyed it.”
The downside for the visitors was the loss of defender John Stones with a knee injury after 18 minutes, but Guardiola is confident the problem is not serious.
He said: “He got a huge kick on the knee and could not run. That’s why we changed. His knee is a bit swollen, but it was just a kick, not ligaments or anything.”