Pep Guardiola: Manchester City Were 'Incredible' During 3-1 Loss to Liverpool

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 10, 2019

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: Pep Guardiola the head coach / manager of Manchester City reacts at full time after the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City at Anfield on November 10, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Manchester City slipped nine points behind Liverpool at the top of the Premier League on Sunday, but Pep Guardiola still took heart from his team's performance during the 3-1 defeat at Anfield.

Speaking to Sky Sports' Ben Grounds (h/t Premier League), the manager waxed lyrical about what his players produced:

Those words may seem at odds with the scoreline after goals from Fabinho, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane gave the Reds all three points. City could only muster a Bernardo Silva goal in response, but it was an accurate reflection of how well last season's champions played going forward.

City played some typically slick and artful football in the attacking areas. A midfield defined by technique manufactured plenty of quality combinations, with Silva and Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings.

Their ingenuity created more than a few excellent chances, but City's playmakers were routinely let down by the profligacy of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero. The usually prolific pair fluffed their lines more than once from close range.

Sam Lee of The Athletic described some of the best opportunities City wasted:

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The Citizens' prospects in this season's title race wouldn't look so bleak had those chances been taken. Instead, Guardiola is left facing the challenge of keeping his team competitive amid a litany of damaging injuries in defence.

Centre-back Aymeric Laporte, goalkeeper Ederson and left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko all missed the game at Anfield. Their absences left Guardiola relying on summer signing Angelino at left-back, while holding midfielder Fernandinho was chosen over Nicolas Otamendi to partner John Stones at the heart of a makeshift defence in front of deputy stopper Claudio Bravo.

There were also holes further forward, where an attacking unit already without Leroy Sane was further weakened by David Silva only being fit enough for the bench.

In this context, Guardiola's praise for his defeated players seems more honest than a show of defiance with Liverpool now firm favourites to dethrone City.

Guardiola is likely also mindful of how some key decisions didn't go his team's way. In particular, Trent Alexander-Arnold avoided giving away a penalty after not being flagged for what appeared to be a clear handball seconds before Liverpool broke and Fabinho opened the scoring.

VAR backed referee Michael Oliver's decision not to point to the spot, leaving Guardiola frustrated about both the replay system and the recourse available to aggrieved teams:

City had occasion to feel perturbed with the officials more than once, with Salah looking to be fractionally offside before he headed in Liverpool's second. Again, no decision was given, while Alexander-Arnold escaped another potential handball shout late on.

Guardiola feeling like things went against his depleted squad makes it easy to understand why he could still take pride from such a costly defeat.

However, the 48-year-old's positivity could also be read as a way of deflecting questions about some of his own decisions. Specifically, Guardiola's team selection raised some eyebrows since he left Otamendi, a natural central defender, on the bench and opted for little-used Angelino, who had made just five appearances in all competitions before today, over Benjamin Mendy.

The latter wasn't even left out because of a fitness concern, according to Jack Gaughan of the Daily Mail:

Aside from overlooking Mendy, Guardiola also omitted big-money summer import Joao Cancelo. The former Juventus man could have allowed right-back Kyle Walker to move inside and form a back three with Stones and Otamendi, freeing up Fernandinho to join Rodri in a more secure midfield.

Guardiola's reluctance to trust some of the most expensive acquisitions of his tenure meant sympathy was lacking in some quarters:

Talking up the quality of the performance is a way of minimising the importance of selection calls. However, the cost of some of Guardiola's team decisions may prove decisive as the title race progresses.

For now, though, City's most successful manager is right to present a positive front to a group of players facing a daunting task to maintain domestic dominance while missing so much talent.