Pep pleased with Sterling effort but wants more than 45 minutes from City
Pep Guardiola’s annoyance at a passive first-half performance dampened the Manchester City manager’s mood despite ultimately running out comprehensive victors against Aston Villa.
The reigning champions cut Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League to three points thanks to an impressive performance after half-time at the Etihad Stadium.
Raheem Sterling’s opener was quickly added to when David Silva got a slight touch to Kevin De Bruyne’s cross, with Ilkay Gundogan sealing a 3-0 victory that masked the issues City had breaking down promoted Villa in the opening period.
The hosts, who saw Fernandinho sent off late on for a second bookable offence, flattered to deceive in the first half, leaving Guardiola frustrated.
“Well, we played a good 45 minutes – not the other ones,” he said.
“Of course, respect and credit for Aston Villa. The first half we played football but we don’t play in the way we should play.
“Second half, I don’t know because we were better, I don’t know if (it was) because of the early goal in the second half.
“The second we play in the way we normally are but we have to try and play 90 minutes. We played just 45.”
Guardiola felt Sterling was the only player showing any aggression on the ball in the first half, but the group imitated him after the break.
Villa manager Dean Smith believes the forward is “pretty much unplayable at the moment” and his City counterpart was proud of his performance.
“It’s like VAR – every press conference I talk about Raheem,” Guardiola said. “He is consistent.
“What I like the most about Raheem was one thing – after scoring three goals against Atalanta (in the Champions League), make an assist and win a penalty, and everything involving the final third, always everybody speaks in the media and says how good you are, how good you are, how good you are.
“Normally the next game you play a bit like ‘how good I am’ – and he was completely opposite.
“He played like Phil Foden. He played 15 minutes and he played like the last 15 minutes of his life. That is, I think, our strength as a team in the last years together.
“Today Raheem has played all the minutes. I am so proud of him.”
Sterling’s role in the second goal led to a lengthy review by the video assistant referee as they attempted to ascertain the way play had panned out. Guardiola brusquely told a reporter to speak to the officials about such decisions but Villa boss Smith was more forthcoming about VAR.
“Well, there’s a view of them today, wasn’t there?” he said. “There were four in the first half, I think – two handballs for them, two for us but I never expected any of them to be given as subjective decisions in the penalty box, they seem to leave it to the on-field referee.
“But the second goal, I was disappointed with how we defended the short corner, to be honest, but then get back in the dressing room after and see that David Silva scores the goal.
“Silva certainly touched it and goes away celebrating that he touched it, which is a bit of a giveaway who has touched it and scored! But when he touches it, Sterling is in an offside position and clearly impedes the goalkeeper.”
Villa boss Smith added: “We knew what we’d expect here, coming to Manchester City – a top team, with top players.
“We had to have an awful lot of tactical discipline, defensive work rate and I thought we did that very well in the first half.”