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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Pep Guardiola keeping Manchester City's focus purely on Shakhtar Donetsk test

Qualification for last 16 of the Uefa Champions League the priority before the Premier League champions turn their attention to Manchester United on Sunday

Pep Guardiola spoke to the media on Tuesday ahead of Manchester City's Uefa Champions League action on Wednesday. Getty Images
Pep Guardiola spoke to the media on Tuesday ahead of Manchester City's Uefa Champions League action on Wednesday. Getty Images

Pep Guardiola insisted Manchester City will manage to ignore the prospect of Sunday’s Manchester derby to focus on the tasks of booking their spot in the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League on Wednesday.

Victory over Shakhtar Donetsk at the Etihad Stadium, coupled with a Lyon win over Hoffenheim, would guarantee City a place in the knockout stages and manager Guardiola is adamant that they will only think about the high-profile meeting with Jose Mourinho’s team after that.

“Every game is important,” he said. The most important will be Shakhtar, first because it is the next one and second because it is a final. After we have three or four days to think about United. We have a final to be there in February for the best 16 teams in Europe.”

Yet while City have achieved away wins in Germany and Ukraine, they were beaten in their opener at home by Lyon.

Including last season’s defeats to Basel and Liverpool, City have lost their last three home Champions League games, but Guardiola is unworried by their recent record at the Etihad Stadium.

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"Statistics are nice to open pages but you have to evaluate individual games,” he said. “We feel more comfortable playing home than away and I prefer to play here than in Donetsk, for example.”

City supporters have long booed the Champions League anthem and can turn out in greater numbers for Premier League matches, but defender Kyle Walker denied that has been a factor in their European setbacks.

“The Manchester City fans have their opinion on the Champions League which is what it is,” he said. “It is down to us as players to create the atmosphere in there and help the fans.

"They are the 12th man. We have an important job on the field to get the victory and we need to make history for this club and that is what we want to do.”

Guardiola has taken heart from the victories against Hoffenheim and Shakhtar, adding: “Winning away helps us especially to be more conscious and more able to say maybe we can do that next step.”

City will welcome back Ilkay Gundogan and Nicolas Otamendi, meaning Kevin de Bruyne is the only major absentee, but have prospered without injured players this season, in part because of Raheem Sterling’s fine form.

“He has been a joy to work with,” said Walker, a teammate for club and country. “I have played with him for numerous games on the right-hand side.

"It is a pleasure to play behind him. He is reaching the levels he can but there is still work to be done and he still needs to dedicate himself to the game to make sure he is one of the very best players in the world.”

It is a mantle that Guardiola believes David Silva merits. “It's always been a joy [to pick him] and a problem to play against him,” he said.

“He's one of the most incredible players in the world playing in the pockets - the small spaces you find between some players. He's maybe the strongest in the world in those spaces.

"We try to attack those spaces. Few players have the quality to move in those spaces and he is a master of that.”

The diminutive Silva is now in his ninth season in England’s famously physical league, but Guardiola has a theory why his fellow Spaniard has lasted so long.

“He plays football better than the other ones,” he said. “If you survive in physical leagues it's because you are a better player. The football player who plays with the ball can survive wherever.”