Title battle begins in February, insists Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini
Manuel Pellegrini wants his Manchester City team to be in prime position to launch their title charge from February.
City are third in the Barclays Premier League at Christmas, six points behind leaders Leicester and four adrift of second-placed Arsenal.
They started the season superbly, quickly establishing themselves as favourites with five consecutive wins during which they did not concede.
But form since has been patchy and momentum has slowed, with Monday's loss at title rivals Arsenal their fifth defeat of the campaign.
Pellegrini says he is not overly concerned, claiming merely staying in touch is all that matters at this stage.
The Chilean said: "I think it's very important to be involved, as we are now, at the end of January. If you can be leaders before then that is better, but I think you need to be there on the last day of January. Then, in the last three months, you can win the title."
City travel to Leicester on Tuesday for another big clash but must first negotiate Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium on Boxing Day.
Pellegrini said: "We need to focus game by game. The next game is Sunderland and we must try to beat them here. That's never an easy game.
"Only after that do we think about Leicester. It's very important to win these two games to finish off the first round (of fixtures).
"We lost important points against Arsenal. I said before the game that it was a game of six points but it was not a decisive game. I repeat that you never win the title in December."
Pellegrini says the Arsenal loss is already consigned to history and he has no intention of raking back over it.
Yaya Toure, who scored City's reply in the 2-1 defeat was criticised for not exerting his influence until too late but Pellegrini does not want to respond.
He said: "When you lose a game the winners take it all and the losers are always doing bad things, so I don't want to try to analyse that game.
"The first shot Arsenal had at our goal was on 33 minutes. We had dominated the game (until then). Maybe we were not that aggressive but we had two or three chances to score and I think the team played in that sense - and Yaya is involved in the team.
"I never criticise just one player, I try to analyse the performance of the team. But I don't want to analyse because we lost."
City could have captain Vincent Kompany back against Sunderland after eight games out with a calf injury. Right-back Pablo Zabaleta and midfielder Fernando are also back in contention.