Pep Guardiola defended his decision to name only six substitutes for Manchester City’s 1-1 Premier League draw at Burnley, claiming that he did not have enough players to fill his bench despite boasting the Premier League’s most expensive squad.
The City manager visited Turf Moor without seven injured players on Saturday and has recently complained that referees are not offering his players enough protection. City also had a late pursuit of Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez rebuffed by the Foxes before Wednesday’s transfer deadline.
But Guardiola insisted that an elite development squad fixture on Friday evening was also a key factor behind his decision as he did not want to withdraw any of his youngsters from that game to travel with the first team. “We didn’t have any players,” said Guardiola. “They are injured.”
“I’d like to have 18 players and could have called on one of the second team, but they played yesterday. Others were injured.”
“We decided not to bring someone onto the bench who played last night because they wouldn’t have played. We will see at Leicester (on Saturday) how many are coming back.”
However, Guardiola’s selection drew widespread criticism, particularly from the television pundit and former Manchester United star Gary Neville who described the decision as a “joke”.
Even without a series of key players including David Silva, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, City looked well on course for victory after Danilo’s stunning 22nd minute opener. However, Guardiola’s men missed a catalogue of chances in the second half, the worst of which saw England forward Raheem Sterling miss a straightforward tap-in before he was substituted two minutes later.
And that error was punished after 82 minutes when Johann Berg Gudmundsson volleyed in a spectacular equaliser. “That’s football, the next time he will score,” said Guardiola, who claimed that his substitution of Sterling was unrelated to his miss.
“Today there was one chance and that can happen. We will focus on the next day, focus on improving to become a stronger team. That happens.
“There were a lot of chances when we were there waiting for the last pass, or shot. Of course we are sad to drop two points but to come here and play as we did is almost impossible.”
Complacency not a problem
The draw at Turf Moor came 24 hours after Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho appeared to already concede the title race to Guardiola. The Catalan had dismissed Mourinho’s “surrender” on the eve of the game claiming that, with 13 games remaining, there was still plenty of football left to be played.
And the City manager insisted that complacency wasn’t City’s problem on Saturday. “Believe me the team was focused,” said Guardiola. “You don’t play as we did without that. Jose said what he did, I said what I did. You can believe which one. There are still 36 points to play for. A lot will happen.
“Today we had 15 players and one goalkeeper. Football is unpredictable – you saw what happened today. We played amazing football, and I don’t have regrets.
“Today was one of the best performances we have had this season by far. We controlled many, many situations. That’s why I am optimistic that (we) can keep going at this level.”
Burnley manager Sean Dyche has not seen his team win in nine league games but took pride in a performance against a side he fully expects to win the league. “They had an unbelievable miss and that changed the feeling in the stadium and our quality was on show with a fantastic goal,” said Dyche.
“But they’re the best side in the division, the best squad in the division and, overall, they showed the quality they’ve got. Anyone would take a point against them.”