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Guardiola plays down hopes of clinching title in derby


Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola applauds supporters on the pitch after the English Premier League football match between Stoke City and Manchester City at the Bet365 Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent, central England on March 12, 2018. Manchester City won the game 2-0. / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS /

Pep Guardiola tried to play down growing excitement among Manchester City supporters over the possibility of winning the Premier League title when they face bitter rivals United in the derby early next month.

Jose Mourinho’s side visit the Etihad Stadium on April 7 for a game which could see City make mathematically certain of being crowned champions following their 2-0 victory at Stoke on Monday.

First, City must win their visit to mid-table Everton but, should they do so, Guardiola will win his first league title in English football with victory over his old rival Mourinho at the Etihad.

“Everybody is always asking this question,” said Guardiola. “But the important thing is on March 12, we have 81 points, that is a lot of points.

“We want to be champions. We need three wins, but we are able to do it with two (if City beat United).

“But before and after United, we have the (Champions League) quarter-finals, and at the moment that is the most important thing to focus on.

“I understand for the fans, okay, but the important thing is to be champions. When and where it doesn’t matter.”

The in-form English team are also in with a strong chance of winning Europe’s premier prize for the first time in their history.

The draw for the Champions League last eight takes place on Friday and Guardiola will watch it live, along with his first-team squad, at their warm weather training camp in Abu Dhabi, where City flew immediately following the Stoke win.

City’s shock exit from the FA Cup, at the hands of third-tier Wigan, leaves them without a game until the clash with Everton on the final day of the month.

“We are going to be together and make three training sessions in five days,” said the City manager.

“We are going to have lunch together, dinner, some people are playing golf. But the weather conditions are better than here – the forecast in Manchester is rain, rain, rain!

“So we are going to go there and do the training we should be doing here. Last season we were there and it was good and that’s why we’re going to the airport now.”

Football a ‘welcome relief’
City’s victory at Stoke came courtesy of two goals from David Silva, whose season has been disrupted because of a family crisis, following the premature birth of his son Mateo in December.

The City forward has been returning to Spain frequently to visit his family and admitted after his superb performance against Stoke that football has been a welcome relief.

“I think when I play football I forget everything, it’s good for me to play,” he said.

“I know in my private life it is not a very happy moment. But my son is fighting, you know, and I am very happy because he is getting stronger, getting better, so it is okay.”

City captain Vincent Kompany offered support to Silva, who has been given permission to miss the Abu Dhabi trip to spend time in Spain.

“David just explained his story, it puts everything into perspective for us,” said the defender.

“It is a massive boost and relief to be able to play this game like we do. It gives us perspective and brings a moment of joy into our lives.”

City, meanwhile, can look forward to a memorable finale to the season given their current form and dominance over the Premier League although their demanding manager is clearly not in the mood to allow his players to relax.

“To motivate my players is really easy, we are not champions yet, and when we are, we must carry on, to focus on the next goals which is the Champions League quarter-finals,” said Guardiola.

“There are always goals to pursue, statistics to overcome, and we will carry on and then work towards next season. There is always room for improvement and that is what we will do.”

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