Pep Guardiola denied confidence was the problem for Manchester City in front of goal after his side were held to a 1-1 draw by West Brom.
The struggling Baggies earned a hard-fought point thanks to a Ruben Dias own goal and a string of superb stops from goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, who denied Ilkay Gundogan – the opening goalscorer on Tuesday – and Raheem Sterling from point-blank range in stoppage time.
City had 26 attempts on total, six of which were saved by Johnstone, including a fine stop from a Kevin De Bruyne free-kick in the 86th minute.
Sergio Aguero made his league return from injury late on but lashed wide with the only chance that fell his way, underlining the problems for a City side who have been outscored by all but one of the sides presently in the Premier League’s top 10.
Guardiola does not believe confidence in front of goal is the root cause of City’s troubles but accepts their failure to take chances is a concern.
“In the second half we did everything; unfortunately, we couldn’t score,” Guardiola told Amazon Prime Sport.
“We create enough to win the game – we did everything but, in the end, you have to put the ball in the net.
“You don’t have to be so clever to see that the margin is not quite like two seasons ago. This year we are struggling a little bit more. No [it’s not confidence]. We created the chances. In games we are better, we are there, but unfortunately, we cannot score.
“It’s not about this [being five points behind the leaders]. We have to win these games, all respect to West Brom, so we know it, we’ve dropped points.
“The top of the league is not far away, of course not, but at home against West Brom, you have to win. But still, we’re in early December and a lot of games to play. Non-stop, [in] four days another one.
“I think we played to win, deserved to win, but we didn’t win it. Football is about end results. We created chances, we were there, but it was not enough.”
10h 8m – Rúben Dias’ own goal was the first goal Manchester City have shipped in 10 hours and 8 minutes in all competitions, since Giovani Lo Celso’s goal for Spurs in November. Unexpected. #MCIWBA
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 15, 2020
Gundogan opened the scoring in the 30th minute, sweeping home his first Premier League goal in 359 days, but Dias’ own goal – the first time City had conceded in 608 minutes across all competitions – restored parity before half-time.
“I think we deserved better. We had the chances; the way we conceded the goal was frustrating,” Gundogan said.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s disappointing for us to get just one point. These kinds of games, we need to win, we must win.
“We have had great years with Pep, great football in the past, so obviously we have set the level quite high, so the expectation is not going down, it only goes up.
“When you win, you need to try to prove yourself again. It’s maybe more difficult to win in a row than it is to win the first time.
“You can see all over Europe the big teams are struggling, not just in the Premier League. Everyone is struggling with the tighter fixtures and it’s not going to be easier.
“We cannot complain, we need to look forward, but that is perhaps an explanation why it is not always easy. We obviously struggle as well, we are human beings not robots, but we know when we have not played our best game.”
Despite claiming a hard-fought draw to lift themselves six points clear of bottom-club Sheffield United, West Brom’s players may not have done enough to save Slaven Bilic’s job, with reports circulating that the club have made a decision to part ways with the Croatian.
Star performer Johnstone, however, was adamant the Baggies’ squad are fully behind their boss.
“We’re buzzing,” he said. “The manager’s great, we all fight for him, each other, the club. The boys love him.
“We knew getting promoted that’d it be tough. We’re not hiding away from that; we know that if we play like that, the luck will go our way.”