Pep Guardiola suggested Manchester City got a reality check against Brighton and Hove Albion despite moving third with a fourth consecutive Premier League win.
Phil Foden's goal was enough for a 1-0 victory that took City back to within four points of leaders Manchester United with a game in hand.
It was another win and another clean sheet for City – their eighth shutout, a league high – but Guardiola's men did not quite hit the heights of previous performances.
The manager saw that as a positive, however, believing it was important for his side to come through a tricky test against strugglers Brighton.
"For the next games that we have in January, February, this is the best thing that could happen today," Guardiola told BBC Sport.
"There's some rumours outside the team, in the team after Stamford Bridge, [Manchester] United, and the reality is today, the game that we played today.
"It's nice to play the way we played. For 60, 70 minutes, we were so good.
"The first half was the way we have to play; the second half we struggled more because of the quality of the opponent - not because we were lazy or a lack of concentration, not these kinds of things."
City won despite missing a late penalty through Raheem Sterling, their seventh Premier League spot-kick failure since the start of last season, of which the England forward has accounted for three.
Sterling had replaced Foden, who was enthused by City's performance while acknowledging room for improvement.
"I feel like we're back to our best," Foden said. "We're definitely taking confidence from the last few results.
"Today I still thought we could have done better, but we dug deep to get the win. Overall, I'm really proud of the team and how we kept going to the final whistle. Overall, it's a great result."
It was a seventh win from seven Premier League meetings with Brighton, and City now intend to turn their focus to Crystal Palace next on Sunday.
"We know that we have a game in hand, but we just have to think of the next opponent and not think too far ahead," said Foden, now City's top scorer with eight in all competitions.
"We just want to keep going with this form and push to win the league, hopefully."