Pep Guardiola is the master of shifting the narrative after a disappointing result.
After Manchester City’s draw against Liverpool, played in front of an Etihad crowd that had been on a collective bender in the Northern Quarter the night before judging by the funeral atmosphere, Guardiola urged the home support to make more noise at future matches.
The kind of comment that would p*ss everybody off, if the Spaniard hadn’t literally won the treble last season. Just go into your office tomorrow and demand the same to ascertain your own level of charisma.
And the City boss did the same following a helter-skelter 3-3 draw against Spurs that saw his perennial champions remain behind leaders Arsenal.
Referee Simon Hooper had decided to bring play back following a foul on striker Erling Haaland when Jack Grealish was through on goal. Fair enough, but perhaps the 94th minute wasn’t the time for such pedantry.
City’s players were furious after the decision, with Haaland almost quadrupling in size like a Loony Tunes character, which came shortly after Dejan Kulusevski’s late equaliser.
Although Guardiola said he did not ‘understand’ why play was brought back, the manager refused to go any further. Instead, the crafty Catalan decided to land a psychological blow in the upcoming title race.
“Next question,” he said when asked about the incident, before referencing this season’s most infamous temper tantrum. “I will not do a Mikel Arteta comment.” Ouch.
Hundreds of miles south, the Arsenal boss felt an unexplainable shiver down his spine. Memories of last season’s collapse flashed across his memory. Memories of last month’s controversial defeat at Newcastle resurfaced like a Boxing Day dump.
Guardiola had succeeded in deflecting attention away from his side with a pithy soundbite. The pressure has been cranked up a notch.
— Arsenal Anoop v02 (@anoop_back) December 3, 2023
“It is hard when you review the image, the referee decides to blow the whistle after he has already said to play on,” Guardiola continued. “After the pass, the whistle, so I do not understand this action.
“It was a good game, that is the most important thing. It was a pity, same as the Liverpool game, I had the feeling that today that we made an incredible performance in all departments, against a really good team and manager and how they play.
“We created a lot of chances, we were aggressive, incredibly concentrated, and the feeling is that we still want to be there [at the top of the table].
“It is a pity. Sometimes football is like life, you do not get what you deserve.”
In the Sky Sports studio, questions were beginning to be asked about City’s slack defending. Sunday’s match was their third draw in a row, crystalising the impression that the Premier League champions aren’t firing on all cylinders this year.
“Something just not right,” Micah Richards said. “Too easy to play against on counter, individual mistakes again, seeing out the game at the end is all about concentration.
“(They) have to concentrate in key moments and didn’t do that. There’s just gaps in midfield, defence and organisation at this moment in time is non-existent.”
But Guardiola has succeeded in kicking that particular can down the road. The build-up to Wednesday’s match at Aston Villa will be dominated by his drive-by shooting of his former assistant manager.
By Michael Lee