Pep Guardiola claims it is a “privilege” for Manchester City to compete with Manchester United for the Premier League title.
Guardiola’s City are on course for their third league crown in four seasons, having opened up a 14-point lead over second-placed United heading into Sunday’s derby at the Etihad Stadium.
Victory would be another step for City, who have won their last 21 matches in all competitions, towards a potential quadruple but Guardiola is paying 20-time champions United plenty of respect.
He said: “It’s Manchester United – all the time United are top, top class. For us it’s a privilege to compete with them, being there in the last seasons in front of them.”
City may have had the edge over United in terms of league position in recent years but their derby encounters have been more evenly split.
Since taking charge at the Etihad Stadium in 2016, Guardiola has won six of his 13 Manchester derbies, lost five and drawn two.
“I know how difficult United are,” Guardiola said. “We have experienced that in the last years and I have the feeling that every year they are a better team than the previous season.
“They are a team with quality and, for more than one year they have not lost away, and they have had good results at the Etihad Stadium.
“But at the same time we know the opportunity we have to increase the distance.
“We spoke in training about what we have to do to beat them on the pitch and the way we want to play.”
Overall, City are unbeaten in 28 games and Guardiola has been hugely impressed by the hunger of his players, which he feels compares favourably to what he experienced whilst in charge at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
He said: “I’ve had incredibly hungry teams like you cannot imagine. To do what we have done in these four years, winning, still winning and, after that, winning and still winning, being there at the end, it’s because these guys have something special, like we had in Barcelona and Munich.
“No words can inject that desire for the players. It comes from inside, from trying to win, to compete or collaborate with their mates to do the best they can.”
Guardiola has the rare luxury of a fully-fit squad available this weekend.
Nathan Ake’s return after a muscular problem means that for the first time this season, City have none of their squad in the treatment room.
Guardiola said: “Good news for us, Nathan is back. He made part of the training session and felt really good.
“Everyone is fully fit and that is important for the next few weeks ahead of the international break, and hopefully the people will come back well after that.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe