LONDON • Manuel Pellegrini has said that Manchester City will take today's meeting with Stoke as seriously as Real Madrid on Tuesday, and that the Champions League has not been a distraction for his team in the Premier League.
City, on a four-match unbeaten streak this month, won just two of their seven league games between February and March, a run which left them out of the title race.
The Chilean's side face Real in the Champions League semi-final opening leg next week and their 1-1 draw at Newcastle on Tuesday night increased the importance of beating Stoke at the Etihad Stadium this weekend.
Pellegrini's team dropped to fourth following Arsenal's win over West Brom on Thursday.
City are on 61 points, two clear of Manchester United, and Pellegrini is clear that the focus must remain against Stoke in the league.
He said: "It's very important because while we're in the (Champions League) semi-finals, that doesn't mean we're not worried about the Premier League.
"All the big teams must always try and reach the final and be involved domestically to try to win it. For us it's very important to get a spot for Champions League next year."
Sergio Aguero scored City's goal at Newcastle, taking him to 22 Premier League strikes for the season. He is two behind Harry Kane in the race to finish top scorer but Pellegrini may not rest the striker before Tuesday.
He said: "Sergio is very important but I'm sure Real Madrid will play their best team (at Real Vallecano today) also because they are going for the league. So we are going to win that game (Stoke) with our best players.
"You always have risks of an injury. But, for big teams, you cannot choose one competition."
City have four league matches left and host Arsenal in their final home game on May 8. Pellegrini said: "You need to win your own games. If we win our points we're going to be third in the table. That's why it's important to play well.
"The pressure is exactly the same. The only way to do it is to win our games."
David Silva is back in the squad of 18 for today's game, while Vincent Kompany has had no reaction to playing from the start on Tyneside.
Said Pellegrini: "Silva is fit and he's in the squad. I hope nothing will happen and there will be no problems. Vincent felt very good after the game. (Samir) Nasri can't recover 100 per cent from his muscle injury. Next game I hope he'll be okay."
Last night, City were due to play Chelsea at the Academy Stadium in the opening leg of the FA Youth Cup final, a repeat of last year's showpiece which Chelsea won 5-3.
Pellegrini believes reaching the final is an indicator that City are developing home-grown, first-team squad ready footballers. He said: "The final means the club is working well with young players...
"You must try to do things at the same time - developing players and trying to be competitive with the first team. I am very optimistic."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
MANCHESTER CITY V STOKE
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