Pep Guardiola unhappy with Manchester City’s finishing as champions blow chance to go top

Seconds before the Premier League title race sustained another dramatic twist, Manchester City’s possession statistics were recorded at 75 per cent.

et that only underlines the poor finishing of Pep Guardiola’s defending champions as Chris Wood handed the advantage back to Arsenal with an 84th-minute equaliser.

It feels drastic to criticise a player who has delivered 32 goals in all competitions this season, but Erling Haaland’s astonishing miss in the second half summed up an excruciating afternoon for Guardiola. He was booked for taking his protests too far as City failed to make their pressure count, and a severely depleted Nottingham Forest team struck six minutes from time to send the City Ground wild.

Steve Cooper, the head coach, has 10 players out injured and is enduring a defensive crisis, but his team stayed patient and disciplined, with Wood putting away arguably their only chance of the afternoon. It just shows that possession is over-rated.

City could have returned to the Premier League summit with a win, and Portuguese maestro Bernardo Silva thumped them into the lead late in the first-half. Signed for £43 million from Monaco in May 2017, Bernardo remains indispensable for City whatever position he plays in.

As a makeshift left-back at Arsenal on Wednesday night, or a roving midfielder here at the City Ground, Bernardo’s enduring qualities are ever-present. His first league goal in 176 days should have seen City kick on to victory, but Forest somehow recovered despite having their backs against the wall for most of the afternoon.

​Clearly fired up by Arsenal’s late win at Aston Villa 30 minutes before kick-off, the pressure was relentless. Statistics at half-time revealed the visitors had 85pc possession.

This was always likely to be a long afternoon for Forest. Two of their centre-backs, Scott McKenna and Willy Boly, sustained long-term injuries in the same minute at Fulham last weekend, while an appeal to have Steve Cook reinstated in their 25-man squad was rejected by the Premier League board.

It was desperate and determined defending in equal measure. City were becoming increasingly frustrated and resorting to efforts from distance.

When Rodrigo did find space in the penalty area eight yards out, in the 33rd minute, he headed Kevin De Bruyne’s cross wide of the top corner. Yet the pressure finally told four minutes before the break, with Forest’s resistance broken.

Jack Grealish placed the ball into Bernardo’s path outside the area, and the Portuguese blasted a shot into the roof of the net.

With Forest’s owner Evangelos Marinakis sitting in the director’s box, Forest were under the cosh again for much of the second half. Phil Foden wasted a glorious chance to add a second goal after being sent clear by Ilkay Gundogan, before Forest goalkeeper Keylor Navas saved a point-blank header from Aymeric Laporte.

Guardiola was raging in the 65th minute when Joe Worrall, the Forest captain who had been booked in the first half, brought down Haaland outside the area. Worrall escaped punishment, but Guardiola was booked for his furious protests.

Two minutes later, Haaland somehow failed to claim his 33rd goal of the season. After Navas saved Phil Foden’s shot, Haaland directed the loose ball onto the crossbar and then fired the rebound into the stand behind the goal. It proved a pivotal moment.

City remained on top but, against all the odds, Forest struck with time ticking away. After a fine move down the right, Morgan Gibbs-White found substitute Wood at the far post, and Guardiola looked on in clear disbelief.

Afterwards, he said his side only had themselves to blame for not securing the three points.

​“It was a brilliant performance, we played really good, but we didn’t score,” Guardiola said. “At this level, you have to score — and that is why we dropped points.

“The first half should already be 2-0 or 3-0; we conceded one shot on target and we dropped points. We are sad and disappointed, but the way we played was really good.

“We missed the chances we missed because today was not our day to win the game. We missed goals that were one metre to the goalkeeper, not just one, a few. That is why we didn’t win. What can I say?

“We played a really good game. We missed the second goal and then after the second, the third would have arrived. We have to look at ourselves, we can do better.

“Today we missed too many chances. It happens in football. Today we were much better than the opponent, but we have to score goals. We didn’t do it, we have to blame ourselves.”

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2023]

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