Pep Guardiola defended his decision to name only six substitutes for Manchester City‘s 1-1 Premier League draw at Burnley, claiming that he did not have enough players to fill his bench despite boasting the Premier League’s most expensive squad.
The City manager visited Turf Moor without seven injured players on Saturday and has recently complained that referees are not offering his players enough protection.
But Guardiola insisted that an elite development squad fixture on Friday evening was also a key factor behind his decision as he did not want to withdraw any of his youngsters from that game to travel with the first team.
“We didn’t have any players,” said Guardiola. “They are injured.
“I’d like to have 18 players and could have called on one of the second team, but they played yesterday. Others were injured.
“We decided not to bring someone onto the bench who played last night because they wouldn’t have played. We will see at Leicester (on Saturday) how many are coming back.”
However, Guardiola’s selection drew widespread criticism, particularly from the television pundit and former Manchester United star Gary Neville who described the decision as a “joke”.
Even without a series of key players including David Silva, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, City looked well on course for victory after Danilo’s stunning 22nd minute opener.
However, Guardiola’s men missed a catalogue of chances in the second half, the worst of which saw England forward Raheem Sterling miss a straightforward tap-in before he was substituted two minutes later.
And that error was punished after 82 minutes when Johann Berg Gudmundsson volleyed in a spectacular equaliser.
“That’s football, the next time he will score,” said Guardiola, who claimed that his substitution of Sterling was unrelated to his miss.
“Today there was one chance and that can happen. We will focus on the next day, focus on improving to become a stronger team. That happens.
“There were a lot of chances when we were there waiting for the last pass, or shot. Of course we are sad to drop two points but to come here and play as we did is almost impossible.”
COMPLACENCY NOT A PROBLEM
The draw at Turf Moor came 24 hours after Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho appeared to already concede the title race to Guardiola.
The Catalan had dismissed Mourinho’s “surrender” on the eve of the game claiming that, with 13 games remaining, there was still plenty of football left to be played.
And the City manager insisted that complacency wasn’t City’s problem on Saturday.
“Believe me the team was focused,” said Guardiola. “You don’t play as we did without that.
“Jose said what he did, I said what I did. You can believe which one. There are still 36 points to play for. A lot will happen.
“Today we had 15 players and one goalkeeper. football is unpredictable – you saw what happened today. We played amazing football, and I don’t have regrets.
“Today was one of the best performances we have had this season by far. We controlled many, many situations. That’s why I am optimistic that (we) can keep going at this level.”
Burnley manager Sean Dyche has not seen his team win in nine league games but took pride in a performance against a side he fully expects to win the league.
“They had an unbelievable miss and that changed the feeling in the stadium and our quality was on show with a fantastic goal,” said Dyche.
“But they’re the best side in the division, the best squad in the division and, overall, they showed the quality they’ve got. Anyone would take a point against them.”
Provided by AFP Sport
Mahrez did not play for Leicester against Swansea in the 1-1 draw on Saturday as he “cleared his head”, with his return to the group set to be carefully managed by the Premier League club.
The 26-year-old Algerian saw a move to Manchester City fall through on Wednesday, the final day of the transfer window. He was supposed to be part of the squad that played Everton that evening but failed to show up and did not travel to Merseyside.
Mahrez has not trained for Puel’s side since seeing his hopes of a dream move dashed.
Manchester City pulled out of the deal as they were unwilling to match the Foxes’ valuation of the player, which Press Association Sport understands to be £80million, so Mahrez, who has two and a half years remaining on his contract, will remain at the King Power Stadium at least until the end of the season.
And Puel has described Mahrez as a “good man”, and thinks his team-mates will show him there is a way back.
“After some time, he will come back with us,” the Frenchman said. “He is our friend and I think all the staff and all the players will help him to come back with a good mentality and a positive attitude and to enjoy his football with his team-mates.
“Riyad is a good player but he is a good man also. I respect him. It’s important to manage this with calm inside the club.
“We have a good relationship. (On Friday morning) I have seen my players with a good focus and with smiles and enjoying their training session. I hope there is a good solution.
“All the staff, especially all the squad, they are his friends. Of course, no problem when he will come back with us, with a good feeling for all the people.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Here, we examine the major talking points from the contest:
Sanchez is United’s all-action man
Delve deeper into Alexis Sanchez’s bow at the Theatre of Dreams and the statistics are truly remarkable.
No player has been fouled more often in a Premier League game this season than he was against the Terriers. However, the Chile forward lost possession more than any United player has in the top-flight this term.
He was also ranked first for United in terms of shots, shots on target, dribbles and tackles made.
When Jose Mourinho’s teams are often accused of being sterile, Sanchez is clearly the antidote.
For so long, United fans looked on in envy at the match winners dotted elsewhere; Chelsea with Eden Hazard, Liverpool with Philippe Coutinho, Manchester City with David Silva – and many, many others – plus Sanchez at Arsenal.
With January’s capture of the Chile superstar, they have a spark. Now, it’s time for him to light the ignition.
32 - Alexis Sanchez has lost possession of the ball more often today than any Manchester United player has in any Premier League game this season. Loose.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 3, 2018
Lukaku gets a welcome lift
A sense of relief rained down on Old Trafford when Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring after the interval.
Not only was this goal – and a well-taken one it was, the Belgium centre forward hooking in an uncomfortable volley at the near post – the blessed opener, it saw the provider get his name on the scoresheet in the Premier League for just the second time in his last seven matches.
This run has clearly impacted a popular figure in the United dressing room. All of his team-mates swamped him in the corner in celebration, Lukaku looking moved by the moment.
United’s form has mirrored the summer buy from Everton. They both raced out of the blocks, Lukaku getting 11 strikes in 11 games as his new club looked to keep chase with Manchester City.
Then, the tap was turned off. Only seven goals followed in the next 25 matches, before Saturday’s quality finish.
Lukaku and the United faithful will hope this is the start of another hot streak for the Red Devil.
The Pogba problem
For all the excitement about Sanchez, a glaring issue remains.
Manager Jose Mourinho followed up his early hooking of Paul Pogba in the meek midweek chasing at Tottenham by benching his £89 million mega buy.
This continued a curious season for the France centre midfielder. A combination of injuries and suspensions have restricted him to just 16 top-flight games, yet only Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne (11) and Leroy Sane (10) boast more assists than his nine.
He was awful against Spurs, yet this was his first defeat in the Premier League in a record 36 matches.
Pogba was lambasted for his tactical naivety by ‘The Special One’, who continues to regularly place him in the same ill-fitting defensive-midfield role in which he underwhelmed at Euro 2016.
Now, the shocking solution seems to be to park the problem on the substitutes’ bench. Clearly, this approach isn’t sustainable – it was surely designed to impart a lesson.
But this process should be two-fold. Mourinho must choose a positioning that works for Pogba – on the left-hand side of a three-man midfield, like the Everton triumph and from his days at Juventus – and his main outfield asset has to adhere to a collective tactical plan.
With Jesse Lingard in fine fettle against Huddersfield, Juan Mata expertly pulling the strings and Sanchez undroppable because of his immediate impact, it won’t be an easy fix.