Pep Guardiola is gearing up for a semi-final – and a final – after Manchester City swept aside Southampton 3-0.
Goals from Vincent Kompany, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero set City up perfectly for a crunch week in which they face an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal followed by the midweek Manchester derby with rivals United.
Guardiola billed the latter clash, next Thursday, as the equivalent of a final, a potential eliminator for a top-four finish and a place in the Champions League next season.
“I’m so happy, we played good,” said the City boss.
“In 10 days we play the real final against United so that is why it was so important to win.”
After a goalless first half, during which City felt they should have had a penalty after Fraser Forster tripped Sane, Kompany broke the deadlock in the 55th minute.
The injury-plagued City skipper rose highest to head in a David Siva corner for his first goal since August 2015.
Then came another milestone moment, of sorts, for much-maligned City keeper Claudio Bravo, who routinely caught a header from Maya Yoshida.
Bravo had failed to stop any of the last seven shots on target he had faced, meaning it was in effect the first save he had made since January 2.
City, perhaps inspired by Bravo’s heroics, promptly wrapped up the win with two goals in three minutes.
First Silva’s through-ball sent De Bruyne through and he squared for Sane to sweep past Forster, then Aguero nodded in his 11th goal in 11 games.
“In the first half it was not easy to find the right spaces, but we created enough chances to score goals,” added Guardiola.
“In the second half we got a set piece and scored a goal, then they had to press even more and we could counter attack where Leroy, Kevin and David are so strong, and we got the goals.
“City missed Kompany a lot last season. He’s a real defender, hopefully he can be fit until the end of the season because he’s an important player for us.”
Southampton’s best chance fell to Dusan Tadic, who blazed over from 15 yards in the first half.
“There is disappointment but not just with the result but also with our play. I think we can do better,” said Saints manager Claude Puel.
“We didn’t show the Southampton quality on the pitch, we were nervous. We gave them opportunities.
“We showed we could make good opportunities against this team but it was not sufficient and it was difficult for us.”