'Keep playing till ref goes home'

Manchester City winger Leroy Sane scoring the first goal in his side's 2-1 victory over Watford at Vicarage Road on Tuesday. It was not an easy win for Premier League leaders City, who had to hang on for the three points after Watford scored in the 8
Manchester City winger Leroy Sane scoring the first goal in his side's 2-1 victory over Watford at Vicarage Road on Tuesday. It was not an easy win for Premier League leaders City, who had to hang on for the three points after Watford scored in the 85th minute.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Despite win, Guardiola admits City took foot off the pedal and warns against complacency

LONDON • Even for a team as relentlessly dominant as Manchester City, a sequence of 13 matches in 44 days does throw up the risk of fatigue.

Luckily for manager Pep Guardiola, the luxury of rotation comes easily to a squad replete with talent.

Six of the starting XI that cantered past Bournemouth at the weekend were replaced by a new set at Watford, but the Premier League champions did not have it all their way at Vicarage Road.

Unbeaten City were forced to defend deep in the final stages at Watford, but ensured their title-chasing juggernaut kept rolling on with a 2-1 victory and seventh straight in the league.

For the vast majority of the match, City were dominant, enjoying long stretches of comfortable possession, with two smartly-worked goals from Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez creating the platform for a seemingly comfortable night.

But the story nearly went off at a very unexpected tangent after Abdoulaye Doucoure bundled in an 85th-minute goal and City ended the match sucked into a pressure situation that required all hands to the pump.

Afterwards, Guardiola brought up the game's nerve-jangling final moments to press home the message to his players that they "could never relax in the Premier League".

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    Consecutive league wins Manchester City have chalked up.

"We spoke now in the locker room. We have to learn what happened in the last 25 minutes. You can never forget to play," he said.

"That is the lesson. You can never forget to play, until the last second when the referee decides to go home.

"We lost a little bit of control. We suffered. The normal process is to win and improve."

The Spaniard, however, felt that the near slip-up at the end would stand his team in good stead as ultimately, it was about "winning games" and "not about breaking records".

City are on course to improve on last term's league records of 100 points and 106 goals for the whole campaign.

Club captain Vincent Kompany concurred with his manager despite relishing the scrap, and said there would be other times in the season when City would have to fight to win as it was not possible to go through an entire season "playing fantasy football".

The 32-year-old defender added: "It was a good old Premier League game, as soon as they (Watford) scored, long balls start coming, they are extremely physical up front. We managed the game pretty well."

City now move on to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and although Guardiola described that league fixture as "complicated", he is happy to concentrate on matches at a time when Uefa is investigating the club's business dealings in the wake of the Football Leaks allegations.

"Uefa is doing what it is doing," the 47-year-old said.

"If they find something, the club will make a statement. I trust a lot in our club, our organisation."

According to the Times of London, City executives may also face personal misconduct charges as a result of the probe into leaked e-mails about alleged manipulation of sponsorship deals.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2018, with the headline ''Keep playing till ref goes home''. Print Edition | Subscribe