LONDON • Pep Guardiola praised Manchester City for digging out a 1-0 win at Tottenham on a shoddy Wembley pitch and said the poor playing surface may have saved his Premier League champions.
City failed to build on the sixth-minute lead given to them by Riyad Mahrez, who dedicated the goal to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester City owner who died in a helicopter crash on Saturday and who was "like a dad" to him during his 41/2 years with the Foxes.
Spurs had a great chance late on. The ball Dele Alli played to Erik Lamela appeared to bobble slightly and the Argentinian blazed over.
City's sixth straight Premier League clean sheet took them back to the top on Monday, above Liverpool on goal difference.
"It was not football conditions to play. We reacted well," Guardiola said of a surface sporting gridiron lines, divots and a huge faded-out National Football League logo in the centre circle after Sunday's NFL game between Philadelphia and Jacksonville.
"There were many mistakes that don't normally happen. If the grass is good then Lamela, a player of his quality with his left foot, scores. If (it) hadn't bounced, not good."
In the first 15-20 minutes of the second half, we should have the game over and the big events, like the Champions League, if we are not more clinical, sooner or later we are not going to win.
PEP GUARDIOLA, City manager, on his team grinding out a 1-0 win in tough conditions.
It was generous of Guardiola who was kicking the air in frustration at times, especially when David Silva wasted an open goal to make it 2-0 shortly after half-time.
"In the first 15-20 minutes of the second half, we should have the game over and the big events, like the Champions League, if we are not more clinical, sooner or later we are not going to win," he said.
Still City have quickly got up to warp speed this season, while Mahrez has taken a little longer to shift through the gears.
He had started only four of City's nine games, and the sense so far had been of a player perhaps a little nervous in his new surroundings, a big fish from a small pond adjusting to life in a billionaire's aquarium.
There had been three goals but those had been at the tail end of 5-0 thrashings against depleted and demoralised Burnley and Huddersfield. The timings of these goals were 67, 83 and 89 minutes, but Guardiola does not sanction the spending of £60 million (S$106 million) for someone to ice the cake.
But Mahrez is no show pony: He learnt his trade on the concrete courts of Sarcelles and the less-than-manicured pitches of Quimper and Le Havre. And here he took little time to make his mark.
A key member of Leicester's miraculous title-winning team in 2016, he celebrated by pointing his gloved hands to the sky in tribute to Vichai, the man whose money brought him to English football and allowed a player from the French second tier to become a star.
Mahrez admitted he was torn over whether to play but went ahead because he believed Vichai would have wanted him to.
"The 'Boss' was very special to me," the 27-year-old told Sky Sports. "I spent 41/2 years there and have many memories with him.
"He was like a dad.
"I always wanted to play. I know he would have wanted me to play. He was passionate about football."
Tottenham, who despite their best league start, are clearly not firing on all cylinders.
And nothing that happened at Wembley, with the upper tier virtually empty and the attendance only 56,854, would have cheered Mauricio Pochettino, even if he did try to take positives.
Said the Argentinian manager: "The effort was fantastic. We competed really, really well. It is a shame we conceded after five minutes but the team was good."
REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON