Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 2-0 win against Everton at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday afternoon. But while Pep Guardiola reserved special praise for his two headline stars, the Catalan coach slammed his side’s first-half performance.
Everton frustrated City for most of the clash as Sean Dyche – serving a touchline suspension – oversaw the action from a vantage point in the directors’ box.
But a clinical Erling Haaland finish from a corner broke the deadlock in the 71st minute before the prolific 23-year-old bullied Jarrad Branthwaite on his way to firing home a second with five minutes left.
City didn’t seem to have much of an answer to Everton’s low block in the first half, failing to register a single shot on target despite cruising with 74 per cent possession.
And after full-time, Guardiola revealed that he wasn’t happy with what he saw and let his players know at the break.
“They are a physical team, a tricky opponent and incredibly organised from Sean [Dyche]. In the first half, we read it better,” Guardiola told BBC Sport.
“In the first half, our body language was not good. You cannot play good football if you are not positive. You do your best when you are positive; when you start to complain and are sad, it does not work.
“We talked at half-time, and I told them, ‘What do you expect? To come here and win 5-0? Come on. Life is tough, and football is tough.’ In the second half, we increased and attacked the spaces we needed to.
“The team never dropped. We were stable, and the back four is moving really well together, and we have made a step forward in that sense. The players that came from the bench played perfectly.”
Haaland’s deadly prowess before goal and Kevin De Bruyne’s technical brilliance pushed City over the finish line to regain control in the Premier league title race.
And despite not speaking highly of his side’s performance against the Toffees, Guardiola made sure to hand both stars their flowers.
He said on TNT Sport: “At the end, the changes in the second half gave us another rhythm, and of course, Erling [Haaland] is back.
“To have this player, when the ball is there from a corner… and the finishing was amazing.
“Kevin [De Bruyne], since he came back, is so fresh in his mind and legs, and that is why sometimes I don’t want to start him, and the impact is higher than the beginning.
“It is important how many chances the opponents have. This is the key point, and the average is not much.”