Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City’s Champions League clash with Club Brugge on Tuesday is more important than their derby trip to Manchester United this weekend.
City, last season’s runners-up, can take a big step towards the last 16 of the European competition by claiming a second successive victory over the Belgian champions.
Guardiola’s men won 5-1 at the Jan Breydel Stadium to overtake Brugge in Group A a fortnight ago and a repeat at the Etihad Stadium would put City in a strong position.
Guardiola insists this game is his prime focus and he will not be prioritising Saturday’s eagerly-anticipated trip to Old Trafford.
“This is much more important than the United game,” the City manager said at his pre-match press conference. “This game gives us an incredible step forward to qualify for the Champions League last 16.
“In the Premier League there are many games, here just six and now there are just three left. It’s not much. They are decisive games. You have to take it seriously to make another good performance.
“I’m pretty sure their manager will adjust things to try to punish us. We will have to adjust many things to get better. It will be a completely different game.”
City go into the encounter after a couple of difficult results. Their four-year reign as Carabao Cup holders was ended by West Ham last week and the champions also suffered a surprise Premier League loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Despite those setbacks, Guardiola maintains that he is happy with how his side have been performing.
He said: “I think we have been playing at an incredible level in the last month, month-and-a-half. In terms of the way we are playing it is one of the best moments, maybe the best, since we’ve been here.
“Of course defeat was tough but it happens. Football is a game where you win and lose. I’m only concerned about the way we are going to play and we just continue to be positive, especially in this important competition.
“Tomorrow is the most important game we have to try to reach the last 16.”
Defender Kyle Walker believes City have dipped in recent games but is keen to ramp things up again ahead of the derby.
The England right-back, who scored in the rout in Belgium, said: “It’s important after the last couple of games we get back to winning ways.
“We know that the standard’s dropped a little bit in the last two games but the best thing about football is it’s always the next game you can put things right.
“It’s a massive week for us now with the Manchester derby coming up and we need to make sure that we’ve got the morale back up and the lads are singing off the same hymn sheet.”
City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne earned a rousing reception on his return to Belgium for the last Brugge game but, after injury problems in recent months, he has had a slow start to the season.
Guardiola, however, has no concerns over his form.
He said: “When you have long career like him, playing millions of games, you have highs and lows. In an entire career you cannot perform incredibly well all the time.
“For the players in the final third, the players who do the creative things, the incredibly talented players, to do it every three days for 90 minutes, there isn’t a human being who can. They don’t exist.”