Sharper finishing is all that is required to take Manchester City to the next level, manager Pep Guardiola said after his side’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool.
Guardiola’s cavalier approach came under scrutiny after City fell to a 3-1 defeat at Monaco last week that saw them eliminated from the Champions League on away goals after a 6-6 aggregate draw.
Sergio Aguero’s 69th-minute equaliser meant City emerged with a point from Sunday’s ding-dong battle with Liverpool, but Guardiola said his forwards’ lack of ruthlessness was holding the team back.
“When you score goals, after that the game is in our hands and you have more control,” he said.
“We have clear chances in front of the goalkeeper and we don’t score goals. That’s why you cannot compete with the top teams.
“To achieve that target, you have to be clinical.”
Aguero’s strike, from Kevin De Bruyne’s superb right-wing cross, cancelled out former City player James Milner’s 51st-minute penalty.
City squandered a glut of chances late on, with Aguero particularly culpable, but despite identifying his side’s profligacy as a key failing, Guardiola said there was nothing he could do to improve it.
“In my career I was a football player 11 years and I scored 11 goals. One goal a year,” he said with a smile.
“So can you imagine what advice I can say to Sergio and the other guys about scoring goals? I don’t think so.
“I think the managers can (coach) the defensive, the high pressing, the build-up. Every manager has his own things.
“But the box is the box. How you defend one cross is the quality because you are good at headers. When you score a goal it’s because you have that talent.”
That City avoided defeat also owed much to an alert defensive display by oft-criticised centre-back John Stones, who produced two important blocks either side of half-time.
“John Stones has more personality than all of us here together in this room. More balls than everyone here,” Guardiola told reporters at the Etihad Stadium.
“I love him. Under pressure, the people criticise him, so I am delighted to have John, with all the huge amount of mistakes he has.”
– Lallana apology –
Guardiola said City’s enterprising display, so soon after their disappointment at Monaco, made it “one of (his) happiest days as a manager”.
“More than ever I want to help this club,” he added.
“I don’t know if I will be able to do that, but I am willing to help this club, if they want to stay with me, in the next years to make the next step forward.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp retorted drily: “He’s Spanish. They’re more emotional than the Germans.”
Victory would have carried Liverpool above third-place City, but they remain a point behind them in fourth place, having played a game more and with fifth-place Manchester United closing in from below.
They might have left with all three points had Adam Lallana not miscued horribly from a Roberto Firmino knock-down, taking an embarrassing swipe at fresh air, but Klopp defended him.
“Immediately after the game Adam said sorry to me and I thought, ‘Why?’” he said.
“I know why he thought he had to, but he doesn’t have to because his performance was outstanding again.”
The result means Liverpool have avoided defeat in the 10 games they have played against the other members of the top six this season.
Although mindful not to overplay the achievement, Klopp said it was “a really important sign”.
“There’s one outstandingly consistent side (Chelsea) this year and they will be champions probably and that’s well deserved and all the rest fight with all they have for the Champions League,” he said.
“We are one of these sides and that’s good. If we do it, it’s a success and if we don’t do it, we’ll be disappointed.
“But we won’t stop working or believing in this project.”