Pep Guardiola believes the next fortnight could determine whether Manchester City’s season proves a success or failure.
The champions, who are chasing three trophies this term, now have a free week before returning to action with a Premier League trip to Crystal Palace next Saturday.
They then face two knockout games in the following days, with RB Leipzig and Burnley visiting in the Champions League and FA Cup respectively.
City boss Guardiola is now giving his players a short break after a hard-fought 2-0 win over Newcastle on Saturday, but wants them to hit the ground running when they return.
“We have two days off for everyone,” said the Spaniard. “It is necessary we don’t see each other for a while, it’s been really tough for everyone with travels and no days off.
“But then after that, before the international break, we have three games, each in a different competition, that will define our season.
“We have Crystal Palace, Leipzig and Burnley. They will define what we want to do or are able to do for the rest of the season.”
Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva scored the goals as City maintained their pursuit of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League by seeing off Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium.
Arsenal’s last-gasp victory at Bournemouth later in the day meant the gap would remain at five points, but City’s performance underlined their determination not to relinquish their title easily.
City went ahead through Foden’s superb strike after 15 minutes but needed to weather a storm after Newcastle fought back. The visitors were the dominant side until Silva came off the bench to wrap up victory in the 67th minute.
“It was a very important win against against a very, very good side,” said Silva. “The game was very tough, they put us under pressure in a lot of moments.
“We’re very happy with the three points and (being on) the right path to to fight for this title.”
Silva also had words of praise for Foden. The England midfielder has endured a difficult spell since the World Cup with injuries and illness compounding a downturn in form, but he now looks to be returning to his best.
His fine solo strike was his fourth goal in three games.
Silva said: “It was a top goal from Phil. He’s struggled a little bit with this injury and everything, but he is back. When he is in this form he is sometimes unstoppable.”
Newcastle’s fine campaign appears to be running out of steam. Coming a week after losing in the Carabao Cup final, the defeat extended their winless run in the Premier League to five games.
Chief among their worries is a lack of goals, with none scored in their last three outings.
Manager Eddie Howe said: “I’m not going to lie and say it’s not a concern, because of course it is, but I think if you’re still creating chances, and we did here, then that’s a positive.
“We didn’t create an abundance of chances because we were playing against one of the best teams in world football, but we had the moments and I back the players over the long term to start scoring again.
“We need to, that’s a fact, because the confidence of the team is dependent on it really. That’s certainly something for us to reflect on.”