LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom, Oct 7 – Pep Guardiola took responsibility for placing his trust in Riyad Mahrez as the Algerian’s missed penalty five minutes from time cost Manchester City victory in a disappointing 0-0 draw at Liverpool on Sunday.
The draw preserved both sides’ unbeaten Premier League records, but they failed to lay down an early marker in the title race as Chelsea moved into a three-way tie at the top on 20 points after eight games.
“I see him every day in the training sessions, I see him every day practice penalties and it gave me a lot of confidence,” said Guardiola after he instructed Gabriel Jesus, who earlier replaced regular penalty taker Sergio Aguero, to hand the ball to Mahrez.
However, Mahrez’s miserable record from the spot continued as City’s club record £60-million ($79 million) signing missed for the fourth time in his last six penalties by blasting well over the bar.
Unlike the four enthralling encounters between the two last season when Liverpool beat the English champions three times, a highly-anticipated clash fell flat with neither side managing to register a shot on target until after the hour mark.
However, Guardiola admitted his plan for a slower tempo to stop Liverpool springing onto the counter-attack had worked.
“If it is an open game at Anfield you don’t even have a one-percent chance,” said Guardiola.
“Up and down they are the best team in the world. Running in these transitions there is no one better. They are built for that, Jurgen (Klopp) is built for that. In that situation they are much better than us.”
But after losing on his three previous visits to Anfield as City boss, Guardiola took the positives from taking a point from one of the few venues the champions were defeated last season.
“We were close more than ever to win here. (A draw) is better than last season when we lose,” added Guardiola as City’s wait for a first win at Anfield since 2003 continued.
“I’m so comfortable (with) the performance we have done. I know against which team we are playing.”
After starting the season with seven straight victories, Liverpool have now failed to win any of their past four matches.
But manager Klopp lamented a gruelling fixture list that has seen his side face Chelsea twice, Napoli away in the Champions League and City in 12 days.
“It was an unbelievably intense period of fixtures, crazy. It makes no sense to moan about it when you are in it. But now it is over so I can,” said Klopp.
“If somebody had told me after eight fixtures, 20 points, I would say ‘yes’. But with this fixture list, I would definitely buy it.”
– Goal-shy Salah –
Ahead of the game, Klopp tried to play down Mohamed Salah’s slump in form after an incredible 44-goal debut season at Anfield.
But the Egyptian again looked far from his best and snatched at the sort of chances he buried last season.
Salah had the first opening after just three minutes when he pulled his shot wide after jinking inside John Stones.
City’s first penalty claim was waved away when Dejan Lovren appeared to trip Aguero inside the area, but the visitors quickly neutralised Liverpool’s threat by keeping possession for long periods.
Guardiola was furious as another penalty shout was turned down when Van Dijk was instead awarded a free-kick for a pull by Fernandinho as the Dutch defender handled inside the area.
A rare incisive Liverpool counter-attack found Salah again in a good position 21 minutes from time, but he blazed high over the bar.
City had the golden chance when substitute Leroy Sane was too quick for the normally flawless Virgil van Dijk and this time Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot.
A message came from the City bench for Mahrez to take the spot-kick instead of Jesus.
But that proved costly as the pressure got to Mahrez and City had to settle for a point.