Pep Guardiola believes Manchester United could still mount a strong title challenge even if they lose this weekend’s derby.
Guardiola’s Manchester City, the champions and current Premier League leaders, could open up a 12-point gap over their arch-rivals with victory at the Etihad Stadium.
But with United having enjoyed an upturn in results of late – most notably with a stunning comeback victory against Juventus in midweek – Guardiola feels they will be in contention regardless of Sunday’s outcome.
City boss Guardiola said: “Win or lose they are not out. It’s not possible in November. They’ve already shown they can recover. They are a big club, with big mentality.
“United have the history and always they are there. Maybe in March, April (you could say that) but everything can change at this stage.”
Guardiola recognises the derby as a special occasion for fans but does not want to overplay the significance of this particular game at this stage of the season.
He also points out that City lost the corresponding fixture last April but the bigger, more important, picture was that they were crowned champions a week later.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, the former Barcelona boss said: “All derbies are special. I think in Spain there is more noise than here but they are special, special for everybody.
“But we are in November. Maybe the game at Old Trafford (in March) will be more important.
“We’ve lost derbies and we were not able to win here. I understand how important it is but we played quite well and in the end we were champions. That is what counts the most and if we keep getting three points we’ll be champions again.
“It has never been easy for City to beat United and in the whole history Man United have won more times than City. But they’re a good rival and it’s a good chance to get three points and move them away.”
The derby will be Guardiola’s sixth since he took over at City in 2016 and will see him come up against Jose Mourinho, the United boss, once again.
The pair have a long-standing rivalry stretching back to their time as managers of Barca and Real Madrid respectively but Guardiola insists tensions have cooled since then.
There has been relatively little attention on the managers ahead of this weekend’s game and Guardiola likes it that way.
“Thank you so much for that,” Guardiola told reporters. “We are both good guys, more than you expect. It’s much better, believe me.”
Guardiola, however, stirred the pot himself before the last derby in April by claiming before the match that City had been offered United midfielder Paul Pogba by the player’s agent Mino Raiola.
Pogba went on to play a starring role as United recovered from 2-0 to win 3-2.
Asked if he regretted those comments, Guardiola said: “I don’t have too many regrets, that’s the question for his agent, his comments. It’s in the past. We lost. Every game is a new history and a new chapter.”
– Press Association