Pep Guardiola has insisted that Manchester United fans’ desire to see his Manchester City side beat Liverpool in the Premier League title race won’t influence Wednesday’s pivotal Manchester derby.
A win for City at Old Trafford would see them move above Liverpool at the top of the table and leave them in control of their destiny with three games remaining.
Any other result would put Liverpool in the ascendancy, a prospect that many United fans have said they find equally or more troublesome than their own team missing out in the race for a top-four finish.
“I understand the fans,” Guardiola said. “When I think of Barcelona-Madrid, or the big rivalries, that is normal.
“But it’s the fans and the fans can express and show whatever they want, but the reality is the players. The fans don’t play, (they) help, but don’t play.
“The players, when they play they want to win, and they want to do a good performance.”
United were left three points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea as they were thrashed 4-0 by Everton on Sunday, with their slump since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s permanent appointment as manager continuing.
Solskjaer won 14 of his first 19 games in caretaker charge at United, but has lost four of six games since being given the full-time role last month.
Despite United’s struggles, and the fact that his team are on a 10-game Premier League winning streak, Guardiola is expecting a major challenge in a derby he admits is one of the ‘most important’ of his managerial career.
“Of course there is going to be a reaction,” Guardiola said. “They are human beings, they are professionals, they are proud.
“I’m just three seasons here, I’m not a long time in the history for Man City, but I think all the times they go to Old Trafford it’s never easy, so today is not going to be an exception.
“They are playing for something. They are not playing just for history, they are playing to finish in the top four.”