(Reuters) - Manchester City can seal the league title on Saturday in what is traditionally their biggest fixture of the season, yet manager Pep Guardiola might still be tempted to field a weakened side against rivals Manchester United.
With a crucial Champions League clash against Liverpool to come next week, and a 3-0 deficit to overturn, the Catalan coach faces a dilemma.
Having watched their rivals Manchester United dominate English football for the majority of the 1990’s and the new millennium, City fans are relishing their opportunity to get one over their bitter foes on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium.
The task is a simple one — beat United and City will seal the fastest-ever Premier League title in front of their own fans, forcing United to look on with envy.
In ordinary circumstances, Guardiola would not even entertain the idea of deploying anything other than his strongest team to secure his first league title in England, and keep City on course for a record points haul.
However, what happened at Anfield on Wednesday would have given the Catalan coach food for thought. Liverpool blew City away in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie with a blistering display of attacking football.
That 3-0 defeat leaves City on brink of an exit from a competition many tipped them to win, given their relentless league form. Guardiola, though, is not giving up just yet.
“I believe a lot in this team,” he said after Wednesday’s match. “Nobody believes we will go through. We will convince ourselves...”
Tuesday’s second leg at the Etihad comes just three days after the Manchester derby — a match City do not necessarily have to win.
City need just two wins from their remaining seven league games to seal that third Premier League crown, and that is assuming United win all of their remaining games, starting at the Etihad.
Losing to United would upset fans, but is unlikely to be detrimental to City’s season. Not overturning their 3-0 deficit against Liverpool, though, would leave them to pick up the pieces of another failed campaign in Europe.
City have only once reached the Champions League semi-finals despite investing eye-watering sums of money in their playing squad.
United are likely to put everything into Saturday’s encounter, and with it being a derby clash, the chances are elevated of some tough tackles flying in.
Guardiola will know that an injury to the likes of Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva would seriously harm their chances of a Champions League turnaround.
It may be a tough decision — and an unpopular one among fans desperate to get one over on their fiercest rivals — but pulling some key personnel out of the derby firing line could serve Guardiola well.
Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Toby Davis