London (AFP) – Manchester City can wrap up a third Premier League title in four years if they beat Chelsea on Saturday, emphatically underlining their status as the dominant force in English football.
Pep Guardiola’s men kick off the dress rehearsal for the Champions League final at an empty Etihad Stadium at 1630 GMT, seeking to secure the second leg of a treble.
City swept aside Paris Saint-Germain in midweek to reach the European showpiece for the first time in their history but Guardiola insisted the Premier League was his priority.
“There is not one thought about the final of the Champions League because we don’t have the Premier League in our hands,” he said. “I’m so cautious. I think if you don’t have it, you don’t talk about it.
“When we have the Premier League, hopefully tomorrow, then the focus will be on the final of the Champions League.”
City, who started the season slowly before going on a 21-match winning streak in all competitions, moved to the brink of the title with victory over Crystal Palace last weekend.
They could have been crowned champions on Sunday had second-placed Manchester United lost to Liverpool but that game was postponed after a protest by fans against United’s American owners.
Guardiola said: “Now it doesn’t depend on anyone else. If we win it is over. There is not one thought on what United are going to do. It is in our hands.”
– ‘Most important title’ –
Reaching the Champions League final for the first time is a huge moment in City’s history but the Catalan said retaining the Premier League after Liverpool interrupted his side’s title series last season was his prime focus.
“Always I’ve said the Premier League is the most important title,” he said.
“Financially for the club, qualification for the Champions League is the most important title, maybe, but there is no doubt what is the most important thing.
“Of course the Champions League is so special, it’s nice, but this one means consistency and many things.”
City beat Tottenham with an Aymeric Laporte header to lift the League Cup last month but Chelsea ended their hopes of an unprecedented quadruple by winning 1-0 in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
Blues boss Thomas Tuchel said that game and Saturday’s meeting would have no bearing on the Champions League final, scheduled to be held in Turkey on May 29.
“I think the final in Istanbul will be pretty unique no matter the score tomorrow, no matter if we win, they win or if we draw,” he said on Friday.
Chelsea, who been transformed since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at the helm in January, will not make it easy for City as they are desperate for three points in their push to secure Champions League qualification for next season.
A British minister said on Friday the English Football Association was in talks with European governing body UEFA about the possibility of moving the game to England after the British government placed Turkey on a coronavirus travel red list and warned fans not to travel to the country.
City, for so long in the shadow of neighbours Manchester United, have become the team to beat, boosted by a huge injection of cash from their Abu Dhabi owners, who took charge in 2008.
They won the Premier League for the first time in 2012 under Roberto Mancini, and Manuel Pellegrini repeated the feat two years later.
But Guardiola, in charge since 2016, has raised standards to new levels and is certain to end the season as a Premier League champion even if his side do not wrap it up against Chelsea.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Leeds beat managerless Tottenham 3-1 to put a huge dent in their ambitions of securing a coveted top-four spot.
Tottenham, beaten Champions League finalists in 2019, are five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with just three games to play.
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