Sunday 24 September 2017

De Roon's late leveller leaves Guardiola scratching his head

Manchester City 1 Middlesbrough 1

Middlesbrough's Marten de Roon of celebrates scoring the equaliser. Photo: Getty
Middlesbrough's Marten de Roon of celebrates scoring the equaliser. Photo: Getty

Jamie Jackson

Manchester City failed to ensure anticlimax did not follow the thrill of beating Barcelona by conceding a late Marten de Roon equaliser that left Pep Guardiola disgusted in the technical area.

The Dutch midfielder's added-time header came as City scintillated before the break and seriously ran out of gas after it. Sergio Aguero's 43rd-minute finish - a 150th goal in 223 appearances for the club - appeared to be the winner until Adama Traore was left free to run across almost the whole field from the right, George Friend was allowed to float the ball in, and De Roon could beat City's jumpers to finish past Claudio Bravo.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty

When Kevin Friend blew for time moments later the referee's whistle was accompanied by boos - perhaps to tell Guardiola that when any opposition is not killed off a smash-and-grab can occur.

This meant a draw in all City's last three home league outings, having also shared the points with Southampton and Everton. A frustrated manager said: "Do you think it is a problem when the opponent arrives two times a game and we arrive 10 times? In all three games we are much better than the opponent. Now we talk and analyse, is it a problem in the box [not finishing and conceding]. If we end 1-0, we talk about the performance and how good it was.

"The second half we didn't play like the first one but I think they have one chance in the beginning of the second half and the last minute. Everton and Southampton as well, when you see all three games, we drop six points, they arrive maybe four or five times in our box. We create enough chances, we attack really well and control the counterattacks and we create enough chances, more than enough to win the game and when you arrive in the last minutes, just 1-0, everything can happen."

The Catalan's message beforehand was clear: use the superb mid-week win over Barca as motivation to be as focused and ruthless again. Overall he could be pleased by a first half-hour of domination but anxious his team had not capitalised. From the side that downed Barca, Guardiola made three changes.

City's Sergio Aguero scores the opening goal. Photo: Getty
City's Sergio Aguero scores the opening goal. Photo: Getty

Out went Willy Caballero, Nicolas Otamendi, and Raheem Sterling and in came Bravo (who had been suspended), Aleksandar Kolarov and Jesus Navas. Otamendi and Sterling were rested. Of particular interest was how Kolarov, a left-back by trade, beat Vincent Kompany to a centre-back berth, the captain having to settle for a replacement role.

During City's first-half onslaught Guardiola bent to his knees in anguish as David Silva blazed at Victor Valdes and the Spaniard's reflexes impressed. The former Manchester United and Barca No1 goalkeeper was having a fine game but, when recovering from a gash caused by a Navas challenge, Valdes could do nothing about City's superb opener.

De Bruyne is having the season of his life under Guardiola. So, too, is Aguero. They combined for a simply sublime strike, as the Belgian fashioned another bending pass that left the red shirts before him as bystanders, and there was the Argentinian to stab home.

At the break Middlesbrough will have been relieved to wander off only 1-0 behind. Now, though, they turned the game, and Aitor Karanka explained how. "We went to the pitch and showed them too much respect," the manager said. "At half-time I told them we had to play."

His order was carried out admirably. First, Alvaro Negredo, once of this parish, came close to lobbing Bravo as the goalkeeper back-pedalled to tip over.

After Stewart Downing flashed an effort past the wrong side of the left post, Guardiola made a move. This, unsurprisingly, was positive, as he replaced Ilkay Gundogan, a midfielder, with Nolito, a forward.

As the game ended Aguero could rue skying over from close range, as now came De Roon's moment. The Argentinean echoed his manager's words. "It was a strange match because we controlled the game but I have a bad feeling because we conceded," he said. "The Premier League is a complicated competition where anyone can beat you. That showed today."

Of his late miss, Aguero said: "I had many chances today, the clearest was the one where Jesus Navas pulled the ball back to me. It was under my feet and I only had a few seconds to decide. I need to improve on that."

City, need to improve too, to become more ruthless.       

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