Even Pep can't hide his frustration with Man City defence

Even Pep can't hide his frustration with Man City defence

Pep Guardiola has a team brimming with fighters, but, at the moment, a defence with a glass jaw.

The Manchester City manager rarely criticises his defenders but even he couldn’t hide his frustration after Crystal Palace were allowed to steal a point from a game that his side had fought hard to win.

“We have to avoid the second goal,” Guardiola insisted. “It is a mistake we have done and we have to avoid it.

“In this situation, at 2-1, it is just not allowed that Zaha runs. It’s simple. But we allowed them and we conceded a goal.”

Roy Hodgson’s side had frustrated City for 82 minutes with their hard work and organisation but the home side's incessant attacking finally told with two instinctive Sergio Aguero strikes.

City just had to close out injury time but failed and Guardiola questioned the decision-making of his defence. Full-back Joao Cancelo was caught out of position against Zaha, a player the City boss namechecked as a threat before the game, John Stones allowed him to run into the box at speed, failing to stop his cross, and Fernandinho turned the ball into his own net as he tried to stop Connor Wickham.

“It was a wrong decision and we are going to solve it and improve in that position. We have to,” Guardiola added. “The back four there has to not let them run. In this situation we cannot let them run in this counter-attack.”

The 2-2 draw was almost a summation of City’s season in the space of 90 minutes. After a strong start they conceded to the visitors’ first strike on target - the sixth time in nine matches at the Etihad Stadium that they have fallen behind to the opener.

But they never gave up.

Aguero got the goals and nothing else can be said about the Argentinian that wasn’t said about him last weekend. He became the greatest-ever Premier League goalscorer born outside England with a hat-trick in the 6-1 victory over Aston Villa. Against Palace he moved up to stand alone in fourth on the all-time list and took his tally to 251 goals in all competitions for City.

Closing on Jamie Vardy at the top of this season's goalscoring charts, Aguero deserved to be on the winning side for two more ice cool moments when his side needed them. So too did many of his team-mates including the hard-working Benjamin Mendy, getting close to his best after injury problems.

Guardiola has praised his players’ spirit to keep battling in the Premier League even with the title race lost to Liverpool. Recent champions Chelsea and Leicester capitulated when their own challenges disappeared, missing out on Champions League qualification. City, however, have only got better since there autumn blips that, along with a faultless run from Jurgen Klopp’s side, all but ended their hopes of a third successive title.

“The spirit was there, we tried and we came back and it’s a pity in the end to drop two points in this way,” Guardiola said.

While he may have conceded the Premier League race, City will be determined to put up a serious challenge in the three cup competitions that remain very much alive.

The Champions League will become a priority but Guardiola knows exactly how difficult it is to win. And his side will struggle to overcome Real Madrid in the first hurdle of the knockout stages unless they start improving on a run of two clean sheets in 20 matches.

The injury time equaliser may well have put have a dampener on Guardiola’s birthday celebrations on Saturday night. Now he must ensure that a weak defence doesn’t ruin his season too. Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook
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