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.”
Paul Pogba is an injury doubt for Manchester United’s derby clash with Manchester City after missing training on Friday.
The 25-year-old played the full 90 minutes against former club Juventus on Wednesday as Jose Mourinho’s men came back to secure a stunning 2-1 win in the Champions League.
However, Pogba was conspicuous by his absence from United’s training session on Friday – an unneeded injury scare ahead of Sunday’s derby at the Etihad Stadium, where he netted a brace in April’s 3-2 victory.
The Red Devils will be hoping that what is being described as a “little injury” will not keep the World Cup winner out against City.
Press Association Sport understands Pogba did indoor work at the Aon Training Complex on Friday as a result of the issue.
Romelu Lukaku is already a doubt for the derby, having missed the trips to Bournemouth and Juventus with a hamstring injury sustained last Friday.
The striker trained with the group this Friday, as did Alexis Sanchez, who took a blow in Turin.
Mourinho said ahead of the session: “Lukaku is training with the team this morning.
“We have of course one more session tomorrow, but if the answer is positive, he’s ready.
“But in this moment, I can only say he trains with the team. I don’t know his answer.”
Danny Welbeck could face a lengthy spell on the sidelines after Arsenal described his ankle injury as “significant”.
Welbeck was carried off on a stretcher on the half-hour mark of Thursday’s Europa League stalemate with Sporting Lisbon.
The England forward continues to be assessed, with the Gunners set to provide a further update on his condition in the next 72 hours.
He is expected to miss his country’s fixtures against the United States and Croatia during the upcoming international break, having been named in Gareth Southgate’s squad earlier on Thursday.
“Danny remains in hospital and will continue to be assessed,” the club posted on arsenal.com on Friday afternoon.
“A further update will be issued over the next 72 hours.”
Welbeck has endured a wretched injury record during his career with knee issues costing him months on the sidelines.
His latest setback comes after he landed badly on his right ankle having jumped for a header in the 25th minute of the Group E encounter at the Emirates Stadium.
The 27-year-old received oxygen on the pitch and had his leg in a protective brace as he was taken off.
Gunners head coach Unai Emery admitted after the goalless draw – which assured Arsenal’s qualification for the knockout stages – that Welbeck’s injury weighed heavy on his players.
Team-mate Rob Holding has backed Welbeck to make another comeback and insists the Arsenal players will rally around their colleague.
“I didn’t see it because obviously I’m at the other end of the pitch so I didn’t see exactly what he’d done,” said Holding.
“But Danny is a tough lad so if he’s on the floor, I know its something serious and he’s gone off to hospital now and we’ll see what happens.
“He’s been so unlucky with injuries over the past few years but he’s a good character and got a good set of lads around him so we’ll lift him up and get him back as soon as we can.
“He can come back strong.”