Everton boss Roberto Martinez has discounted Liverpool’s Premier League title chances by suggesting the battle for the trophy is down to the top three.
• O'Farrell: Tony Hibbert - deal or no deal
Martinez takes his side to leaders Chelsea on Saturday looking to become the first manager to inflict a Premier League home defeat on Jose Mourinho.
As far as the Everton boss is concerned, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City are the three contenders for the title.
That is despite the fact that Liverpool, in fourth, are only a point behind City and four adrift of Chelsea.
Everton, in sixth place, retain hopes of catching Liverpool and claiming the fourth and final Champions League qualification spot, but would have to make up an eight-point gap to do so.
Martinez did not mention Liverpool by name, but made it clear that he sees the title contest as a three-way battle.
He said: “Nothing is given. There are a lot of points to play for -- 39 points for us and 36 for other teams. But clearly, the top three teams are in a very advantageous position to win the title.
“Everyone else will rely on how good they can be now, and how effective they can be from now until the end of the season to see where it can take them.
“If you look at the table now, you’ll see clearly where you are in terms of the aims for the season. You need to be realistic with it.
“The points tally gives you a great starting point. If you look at the points totals accumulated by the top three, they clearly have a great chance to win the title.
“The next four teams have a great opportunity to get into that fourth place, and then you’ve got a really decisive battle to try to stay in the division.”
Chelsea boss Mourinho has repeatedly played down Chelsea’s title chances, even though they are a point clear of Arsenal at the top with 12 games to play.
Martinez, for his part, is not buying Mourinho’s pessimism. He said: “From the outside, Chelsea look a team who are capable of competing for the title, in the same way that I can see Arsenal and Manchester City putting forward strong arguments to win the title.
“It’s the final third of the season, and now is the time when teams can speak about their aims.
“When you look at the way teams are playing, and the points tallies they have, it is plain that those three clubs will have clear ambitions to win the title, and rightly so.”
Everton have not won a league fixture at Stamford Bridge since November 1994, although they did claim victory there on penalties in a 2011 FA Cup fifth-round replay.
No visiting team have managed a league win at Chelsea in either of Mourinho’s two spells as manager; the first between 2004 and September 2007, the second beginning at the start of this season.
Earlier this season, though, Martinez guided Everton to a first away win at Manchester United since 1992 -- and he believes they are capable of victory at Chelsea too as they bid to bounce back from the 1-0 defeat they suffered in their last league game at Tottenham on Feb. 9.
He said: “I do feel that we’ve performed really, really well away from home. I don’t think it’s been a case of not being confident away from home, and not being able to be ourselves. I think we have done that.
“The only thing I would say is that when you play well away from home, you need to get full points. It’s no good to go away from home, play well and maybe drop two points, or even -- as happened at White Hart Lane -- play well and lose.
“I think that’s the big difference. If there’s one area we want to improve, it’s making sure we win when we play well. There are no excuses.
“From that point of view, this weekend is going to be the biggest test. Chelsea, as you know, have terrific home form -- not just this season, but over the years with this manager.
“So it’s an incredible challenge that we’ve got ahead. But we need that.
“If we go anywhere in the league and play well, we need to collect the points. That’s the area in which we need to work to fulfil the potential of this squad.”