City boss Guardiola takes blame for ill-judged spot-kick decision
LIVERPOOL－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 0-0 draw at Liverpool on Sunday.
The draw preserved both sides' unbeaten Premier League records, but Chelsea's resounding 3-0 victory at Southampton saw the London side move into a three-way tie at the top with 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 had 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 $79 million signing missed his fourth spot-kick from six attempts by blasting well over the bar.
Unlike the four enthralling encounters between the two last season when Liverpool beat the eventual champion 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 Jurgen Klopp's high-octane side springing counter attacks 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 was looking on the bright side after coming away with a point from one of the few venues City was defeated last season.
"We were close more than ever to win here. (A draw) is better than last season when we lost," added the Spaniard 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 is now winless in four matches.
But manager Klopp lamented a busy schedule 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."
Ahead of the game, Klopp tried to play down Mo Salah's slump in form after an incredible 44-goal debut season for the Reds last term.
But the Egyptian again looked far from his best and snatched at the sort of chances he buried with ease last season.
Salah had the first opening after just three minutes when he pulled a 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 visitor quickly neutralized 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 freekick 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 a golden chance to nick the points when substitute Leroy Sane was too quick for Virgil van Dijk and this time referee 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 share of the spoils.