‘How nice’: Pep Guardiola relishing title-defining trio of fixtures for City

<span>Master and his commander: Pep Guardiola and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Kevin De Bruyne;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Kevin De Bruyne</a>. </span><span>Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images</span>

On the way to winning the treble last season Manchester City enjoyed the most run-of-the-mill March considering the history achieved three months later. They played four times, winning two Premier League and two cup matches 16-0 on aggregate. It might have been straightforward but it showed their competitors they meant business.

A year on, this month could define how Pep Guardiola’s three-pronged battle concludes but it will be a lot more difficult. City begin a complicated Premier League period by welcoming United for the Manchester derby on Sunday, followed by games against their title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal, with the small matter of a Champions League last-16 second leg against Copenhagen and an FA Cup quarter-final at home to Newcastle also fitted in.

Related: Erling Haaland’s attack on history points to new way for Manchester City | Jonathan Liew

Guardiola is consistent in stating the Premier League is the hardest to win, requiring a level of consistency few teams can achieve. It is not a coincidence that City have lifted the trophy on five occasions under him, having set new standards. Momentum is imperative for City when trying to replicate their success from last season. The points are important but the potential psychological blows of winning three critical Premier League matches could shape the run-in.

“How nice,” Guardiola said of the run of fixtures. “I prefer that than the opposite. We are a team and the key players are everyone. Everyone is so important and it is so nice to have this fixture against United, to have the chance to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League, then we have Anfield and then before the international break we have the chance against Newcastle – this is the fourth time we have played this season – to reach the semi-final of the FA Cup. We have worked so far since we arrived here to live these kind of moments.”

One issue facing City in recent weeks was their profligacy, which cost them victory over Chelsea and made defeating Brentford more complicated than it needed to be. They have scored three in as many matches in the Premier League and will be eager to right that wrong in the derby. Erling Haaland plundered five against Luton in the FA Cup to make defenders across the land wake in a cold sweat. Regardless of who is in and out of form, Haaland will be central to whether City can enter April unscathed because he is the most prolific striker in the league. However well Arsenal and Liverpool are doing, Haaland’s scoring record is superior to anyone else’s.

There is little doubt that City are England’s dominant force and Guardiola can depend on his players when trophies are on the line. “Eighties was Liverpool, 90s was United and now we are for many years, winning seven Premier Leagues in the past decade, 11, 12 years, but it’s happened,” Guardiola says. “In 50, 60 years there’s never ever been one country, been one club, that has completely controlled and dominated everything. We try in this organisation to extend for many years what we are trying to do, especially the consistency that was proved again in the game against Luton.”

City are creeping up quietly amid the noise surrounding Jürgen Klopp’s impending departure and the prospect of Arsenal winning a first title in 20 years. There was a wobble in mid-November when City drew three and lost one, leading many to wonder whether they had the gumption to follow up a marathon season with another gruelling 10 months. Since mid-December they have dropped four points and rarely look like relinquishing more.

Kevin De Bruyne is available after missing five months, having sustained an injury on the opening night against Burnley. The Belgian brings an added layer of self-confidence to a squad who already have it in abundance. He provided four assists for Haaland in midweek.

A City team who are used to proving their quality when it matters are a scary prospect for opponents. Liverpool have one league title in 34 years and Arsenal have endured a barren two decades, so they will be worried by City moving through the gears. Last season, City won 12 league games in a row from mid-February to late May, letting up only when the title was secured.

If Liverpool or Arsenal want to topple City, they will have to beat them this month. This is their chance to throw a spanner into the City machine but Guardiola will embrace the challenge. Does he enjoy these periods? “Absolutely, they are the best.” And they usually end with City being the best.