LONDON – Pep Guardiola praised his side for digging out a 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur on a shoddy Wembley pitch on Monday, and said the poor playing surface may have saved his side.
City had failed to build on the sixth-minute lead given to them by Riyad Mahrez, and looked as though they might pay when Erik Lamela sized up a great late chance.
The Argentine looked poised to equalise for Tottenham as the ball was played to him by Dele Alli, but it appeared to bobble slightly and Lamela blazed the chance over.
City’s sixth consecutive clean sheet in the Premier League took the champions back to the top, above Liverpool on goal difference.
“It was not football conditions to play. We reacted well. For our players and the players of Tottenham, hopefully they will sort the problem for the future,” Guardiola said of a surface sporting gridiron lines, divots and a huge faded-out NFL logo in the centre circle after Sunday’s NFL game between Philadelphia and Jacksonville.
“To play a football match on that pitch, it’s not easy. There were many mistakes that don’t normally happen. It was something incredible. I don’t think the grass helped them either.
“If the grass is good, then Lamela, a player of his quality with his left foot, scores. If (it) hadn’t bounced (badly), not good.”
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 halftime.
“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,” the Spaniard said.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino tried to play down the state of the surface at Tottenham’s temporary home, although he also said it played a part in Lamela’s glaring miss.
“When the ball was going to Erik, I said ‘goal’ but no, watching the replay, the ball just bounced before his boot, and that is why he missed,” Pochettino said.
Had Lamela scored, it would have been a morale-boosting point for a Tottenham side who, despite earning their best points haul from their opening nine Premier League matches, are clearly not firing on all cylinders this season.
Pochettino said last week it was the worst he has felt in his four-and-a-half years at Tottenham – referring to the delay in moving into the club’s new ground and a lack of squad-strengthening over the close season.
Nothing that happened at a sparsely-populated Wembley on Monday would have cheered his mood, even if he did try to take positives from his side’s performance.
“I think it was a great game in difficult circumstances. I feel very proud,” Pochettino, whose name is sure to be linked to the vacant Real Madrid job, said.
“The effort was fantastic we competed really, really well. It is a shame we conceded after five minutes, but the team was good. I am happy with the performance.”