Pep Guardiola insists the Champions League clash with Club Brugge is more important for Manchester City than their upcoming derby against Man Utd.
City will welcome Club Brugge to the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday for matchday four of the Champions League group stage. On matchday three, City won 5-1 in Belgium. Therefore, another win against the same opponents would allow them to put one eye towards the knockout stages.
But also on their minds will be their next Premier League fixture, which is the Manchester derby on Saturday.
Guardiola, though, has a clear priority in his mind – and it was not just a repetition of the familiar one-game-at-a-time mantra.
“It’s much more important this game than United game. It gives us an incredible step forward to qualify for the last 16,” he reasoned.
“In the Premier League you have many many game, here just six, now three left. It’s not much and they are decisive this third and fourth games.
“The most important games and we need to take it incredibly seriously. Do a good performance a make a step forward in qualification.”
The reverse fixture was the first that Ilkay Gundogan featured in for City following his return from an injury that had sidelined him for about a month.
The midfielder, so influential last season, scored in the subsequent Premier League match against Brighton. However, his only appearance since was in the Carabao Cup against West Ham last week.
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Guardiola is ready to count on the German again after explaining his approach with the squad.
“Every important is every player,” he insisted. “There are injuries, highs and lows in a career. What a player has done last season doesn’t mean he does it again.
“Ilkay everybody know how important he is, he’s intelligent, clever, always thinking for the team. He was injured, needs time, he’s getting better. We need him like all the players.
“There are some players maybe not the top level but in a few weeks will be much better. Now there are players who have to play because they’re in incredible top form but will drop. It’s normal in the season, every day be as best as possible.
“I give credit what these players have done the last five years, every day every competition to do it. Tomorrow we have a chance, this competition in the group stages, every year is more difficult.
“It’s just six games, lose more than one or two you’re in real trouble. We already lost in Paris, you have to take the home games we have, tomorrow we have an incredible opportunity to take a step forward to qualify.”
Guardiola denies De Bruyne concerns
Also in midfield, Kevin De Bruyne remains a star man for Man City, even if external factors have affected him in recent months.
Guardiola does not have any concerns about him, though, despite a perceived drop-off in standards. Instead, the manager took the opportunity to reiterate how demanding the schedule is on players.
“You cannot imagine how good a player he is. When you have a long career like him you have highs and lows,” Guardiola explained.
“He’s training and knows that he has our complete support, playing or not playing minutes, good or bad level. All the players know it.
“I was a player, I know all the time you cannot perform incredibly well all the time. There are highs and lows. He knows better than anyone he can do better, we are with him, I know what he’s doing every day to get his best.
“We forget they are human beings and in the last eight, nine years they have three weeks holidays every year. Sometimes the fatigue and many things takes place.
“We are sitting here and see all the players have to make their best performance every three days. For players with physical strength it’s easier. Like people who play in final third the incredibly talented players creating things every three days for 90 minutes. No human being can do it.”