Pep Guardiola hopes Manchester City can maintain their “incredible” recent form as the finish line in a momentous season moves into sight.
City are still in the running for an unprecedented quadruple, having lost only once in 2019 – to Newcastle United in the Premier League – amid a run that included their EFL Cup final triumph over Chelsea on penalties.
Guardiola’s men have leapfrogged Liverpool in the league, moving a point clear last weekend, while they are still in the FA Cup and lead Schalke 3-2 after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
And with Saturday’s home game versus Watford followed by a 21-day break to their next league encounter, after which City’s schedule is relentless, Guardiola acknowledges the importance of taking another big stride at the Etihad Stadium.
“All I can say is we have played incredible the last two months. Incredible,” he told reporters. “It’s incredible the amount of games we have won and, especially the last two or three weeks, how well we played.
“Now we would like to continue in that way. I would like to finish in that way but it is not easy. This week we have three games in three different competitions which allow us to go through or out – especially in two.
“In the Premier League, everything is close with Liverpool and nothing is going to change too much if you lose in [terms of] the title race. In other competitions, they are absolutely finals so hopefully our defence can help us.
“With tomorrow and next Tuesday, it is a massively important week. After that, we have the international break and we come back and it will be ‘guys, one month and a half’ and let’s go. That’s why tomorrow is so important.”
Again emphasising the key nature of the clash with Watford, Guardiola expects every game along the way to be tough.
“[Most important is] how you approach the situation,” he said. “You cannot expect that, in nine games in a title race, everything is going to be comfortable.
“I spoke with the players and they know how tough it will be. We need every single game. Even the opponents [play] for many, many things, not just for the Premier League or to get into Europe. Every game at the end is tough.
“It is how you approach the situations during the game or how you react to the defeats. But when you are in all competitions, if you go out in the cup or the Champions League, it is how you react in the Premier League.
“It is about being strong and accepting the toughest moment in every single game and handling it. Game by game. The players know we are closer – okay, after the international break – one month and a half.
“Every game is closer to what you want to achieve to fight for the title.”
Events over recent days suggest City might also face a fight off the field.
The Premier League has followed UEFA in opening an investigation into the club, on the back of allegations published by Der Spiegel.
A series of articles from the German publication, which drew upon documents purportedly obtained by whistleblowers Football Leaks, included claims of impropriety with regards to circumventing UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, youth player recruitment and third-party ownership.
City maintain the accusations are “entirely false”.