Pep Guardiola felt tiredness – and not a failure to sign a striker – caught up with Manchester City as they were frustrated by Southampton on Saturday.
The champions were unusually blunt in attack and mustered just one effort on target – in the 90th minute – as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men held them to a goalless draw at the Etihad Stadium.
Despite the fact City had scored 16 goals in their previous three home outings, it was a result which brought the team’s lack of a top-notch centre forward following the departure of Sergio Aguero into focus.
A disappointing afternoon.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) September 18, 2021
Yet manager Guardiola insisted that was not the main reason for the toothless performance and turned attention onto his side’s lack of preparation time following their midweek Champions League exertions.
The Catalan said: “We did not win because we did not have a centre forward. We did not win because our process to make the build-up, to play, to create or give better balls for the players up front was not good.
“We didn’t do our process from the back four and Fernandinho – the five guys who have to bring the ball for the other players. It was not good.
“Every game is different. Ralph told me he had seven days to prepare everything. We had 10 minutes yesterday (Friday).
“I would have loved to have more time to recover more people or be more fresh but we did not have this freshness in our mind.”
There were two main talking points in the game, both involving VAR.
Firstly City earned a huge reprieve in the second half when referee Jon Moss awarded Southampton a penalty and sent off Kyle Walker after the England right-back bundled into the back of Adam Armstrong.
Moss was advised to review the whole incident on the pitchside monitor and eventually overturned both decisions.
City could not make the most of the let-off but thought they had finally broken the resistance of the stubborn Saints in the last minute after Phil Foden produced their only effort on target. Foden’s header was brilliantly saved by Alex McCarthy but both he and Raheem Sterling raced forward to turn in the rebound.
Both appeared to claim the final touch but in the end it did not count as a flag was raised and VAR confirmed the offside decision.
“I thought I won it at the end there with the goal but VAR ruled it out,” said Foden, whose 18 minutes of action were his first in the league this season after recovering from a foot injury.
“On another day we come out with the three points but Southampton made it difficult for us.
“We can still take positives out of the game. We didn’t give up till the end and we gave everything. We need to keep that mentality into the next games.”
A late winner would have been harsh on Southampton, who defended resolutely and showed some punch in attack.
“To come away from one of the best teams in the world with a point, we can be extremely proud,” said captain James Ward-Prowse.
“Last year this was a game we would have lost, given a sloppy goal away.”