Pep Guardiola sees this weekend’s Manchester derby as crucial to maintaining his City side’s momentum.
The champions have long accepted they cannot defend their Premier League title this season but their challenge on other fronts is still alive.
Last week city won the Carabao Cup for a third successive year and they also have their sights set on retaining the FA Cup and winning the Champions League.
They are already through to the quarter-finals of the former – and will face Newcastle later this month – while they are also on course to reach the last eight of the latter after beating Real Madrid 2-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
With City comfortable in second place in the Premier League, this weekend’s trip to Old Trafford would seem to be more important for the hosts, but that does not diminish Guardiola’s appetite for the derby contest.
Pep eyes Derby Day improvement for the Blues! 💬
— Manchester City (@ManCity) March 6, 2020
The Manchester City boss said: “It’s always so nice. I love it, both teams do. They’re always special.
“Of course the situation this season is a bit different because we play to improve, to finish second, not to win the title. For them it’s important to qualify for the Champions League.
“We have to prepare for the next games, especially the two ‘finals’, against Madrid and Newcastle, and to improve what we do.
“At Sheffield (Wednesday) there were moments when we struggled a bit to attack fluently.
“In every game we have to improve and to do it against the big teams like United in a derby is the best way to improve.”
City have won their last five games in all competitions, a sequence which has included their memorable victory at the Bernabeu and the Carabao Cup final.
That has come under the cloud of the two-year European ban that was imposed on the club last month but Guardiola has been pleased with the character and resilience shown.
He said: “I’ve said many times, the determination we’ve shown in the past, not just in these moments of the last month, but the desire and commitment (has been) in every single game for the last year.
“I’ve no doubts about how we’ll react to problems we have in certain (times) during the year and what’s happened with other issues.”
City have a derby doubt over Kevin De Bruyne, who suffered a shoulder injury in the latter stages of the Carabao Cup final last weekend.