Manchester City are gripped by Champions League fever ahead of a crunch semi-final clash with Real Madrid, but Manuel Pellegrini has warned his players that their involvement in the competition next season should not be taken for granted.
City, Arsenal and Manchester United might have been expecting to fight for the Premier League title before the season started, but now they are locked in a battle for the last two Champions League places, with Leicester City and Tottenham on top.
Pellegrini, who will exit City at the end of the season, wants to make sure his side are focused on finishing as high as possible in the table, starting with a win against Stoke City on Saturday.
“All of them want to play the Champions League next year also,” he said of his squad.
“Not just leave the Premier League out and just think about the Champions League because that has important consequences for the future. The same players will not play in the Champions League if they think in that way.
“So I’m sure that none of them are thinking nothing more than to win against Stoke. Then we are going to start talking about Madrid.”
Pellegrini admitted he was tinkering with the idea of two different XIs for the matches with Stoke and Real but said performance would ultimately guide his decision.
“Maybe you have an [ideal] starting XI but after that you must see the performance of the players. So after that, until the last day, I can make some changes,” he said.
City defender Nicolas Otamendi echoed his manager’s sentiments and said a win against Stoke was crucial before worrying about beating Real.
“Knowing how important it was to win against Newcastle [a 1-1 draw], we really wanted to,” Otamendi said.
“We’re fighting for everything near the top so we knew those three points were important. I don’t see it as gaining one point – we lost two points.
“We’re taking tomorrow’s game as one that deserves the maximum effort from us as we we’ve got to be thinking about next season and making sure we qualify for the Champions League and all that competition offers us.
“Tomorrow is our main focus and once that’s out the way we’ll concentrate on Real Madrid.”