6:40 P.M. EASTERN TIME.
Manchester, England-West Brom have never won a Premier League game in the Etihad Stadium and start here in 19th place with only one victory in the whole season, something they didn’t expect. But that says it all about the current state of Manchester City, which didn’t seem to have won against the Baggies on Tuesday either.
It was only at a standstill that City created clear chances to win the game, but failed to beat former Manchester United goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, who saved Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling, and had to settle for a 1-1 tie.
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Pep Guardiola did not often need an extended injury time during his reign, and it was a testament to the frustration of West Brom – who only picked up their second point of the off-season – who literally begged fourth official Anthony Taylor to give him more than four minutes at the end of the night. After the defeat of Chelsea by Wolves, Frank Lampard had a chance to bounce back with one game less, but in the end it was a missed opportunity for Saturday’s tricky trip to fourth-seeded Southampton.
For The Guardian, the problem is clear. Gundogan’s first goal after half an hour was the 18th of the city. League-goals this season. In the same phase last season they had already scored 35 points.
You don’t have to be very smart to see the difference between this year and previous years, Guardiola said afterwards. It’s no certainty, Sergio Aguero has been injured for four months, but we’re creating chances, we just can’t score.
The city left Aguero on the bench after 76 minutes, but Bernardo Silva, Ferran Torres and Riyad Mahrez remained on the bench, while Guardiola chose to make only two of the three changes. The usual two goalkeepers, Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, were at least on the field, but Aguero is still waiting for his first league goal this season and Jesus hasn’t scored for more than a month.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Man City has had trouble scoring this season. The city scored only 18-13 goals, down from 35 last season at the moment. Photo by Martin Rickett – Pool/Getty Images
We have made enough to win the game, 26 shots, I think we just put the ball down, we fight with that, said Guardiola.
We have to be optimistic. You have to win games like this. We know we’re losing points. These are the ones you need to win. It’s not far from the top of the board, but we have to beat West Brom at home. There are still many games to play.
The single shot of the city on target was typical of the plan of Guardiola, with the Real finish for Gundogan, but the ruthlessness of previous campaigns seems to have disappeared. The movement is not so sharp, the fitting of the game is not so fast. The game was played in stages in a way they weren’t used to, and although Johnstone made three good saves, the West Brom defence didn’t seem out of his reach. Although the Etihad point is seen as a bonus for Albion, it won’t ease the pressure on manager Slaven Bilic, who is in danger with just one win in 13 games.
The evening came halfway through the second half, when Rhodri picked up the ball 25 metres from the goal and, without being able to load forward, decided to throw the ball into the stands, creating a frustrated scream from Guardiola on the sidelines.
The lack of power of the hosts would not have mattered if they had been able to maintain their record of seven consecutive titles, but Semi Ajayi paid the price just before the break with a sloppy shot that Ruben Diaz rejected for a goal of his own. City has won the last 13 games against West Brom 37-9, but this time the attack came when it was too late. Of the 26 shots, only seven were made and 13 corners fired.
We didn’t make much in the first half, they had a lot of people, we had trouble reaching the second goal, said Guardiola. In the second half we tried everything we could, but we couldn’t score. This is a strange situation for everyone. We deserved to win the game, but we didn’t.
The city is still within a touching distance of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool after their fifth draw of the season, but Guardiola will continue to search for a solution to the goal for a frantic five-game race in 16 days for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Maybe Aguero is good enough to play for the first time since October, or maybe Torres plays as a midfielder more often.
For the Spaniard, however, it is a simple message to his players: You have to hit a ball into the net. This season for City is easier said than done.
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