• Manchester City manager defends his team’s record
• Guardiola admits that penalty misses are ‘not normal’
There had been suggestions that Manchester City had slightly lost their focus as the gap to Liverpool increased to unmanageable proportions, but after their dogged victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, Pep Guardiola insisted he had never questioned the spirit in his side.
“Ask me about these guys?” he said with exaggerated incredulity. “Do you still doubt about what they’ve done, seven titles in the last eight [possible domestic trophies, including the Community Shield], in every game we played, the way we played, the personality, there are no doubts.”
He spoke particularly of City’s persistence despite a series of saves from Kasper Schmeichel, including from Sergio Agüero’s penalty, against a side that was so threatening on the break. “The reaction after the penalty,” Guardiola said, “the season they’ve had, the good centre-backs, the full-backs, the quality in the middle, and how quick they are – it was good test for us, it’s good to play these teams before the Champions League, so I’m pleased for the victory and the way they played.”
Penalties, though, are an issue for City. Agüero’s miss was their fifth of their last seven (although his first since the Champions league quarter-final against Tottenham last season). “It’s not normal for quality that we have,” Guardiola acknowledged. “I said to them: ‘Next time we are going to score and the guy who’s going to take [must] just be convinced and score a goal.’”
Guardiola still refuses to dictate who the penalty taker should be, which might explain in part why the only penalty Kevin De Bruyne has taken for the club remains the one he missed against Everton in 2016. “De Bruyne is one option,” said Guardiola, “but in the end they decide. I like when the players have the initiative to try to score. I like the mentality, I like Sergio taking the ball and wanting to score. He practises to be positive, to have one idea, to take the ball and score a goal.”
Brendan Rodgers has now seen his side fail to win seven of their last nine in all competitions, but he seemed relatively satisfied with the performance, insisting Leicester should have had a penalty when James Maddison’s free-kick hit De Bruyne’s arm on the end of the wall. “Obviously we’re bitterly disappointed we didn’t take anything from the game. It was second v third and it looked that level of game. We did what we wanted to do, were aggressive in the right moments, looked good on the counter.
“Very clearly we had a penalty. To not get that was obviously hugely disappointing. I thought their penalty was a penalty. So we leave the game having given so much to it against a top-class team. But we didn’t get the rub of the green.”